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Roy Fisher obituary

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English modernist poet whose work was rooted in his home town, Birmingham

The poet Roy Fisher, who has died aged 86, did everything wrong – from a literary-careerist perspective. He rejected the political posturing that has been known to secure a writer public attention and prestige. He was indifferent to fame, and temperamentally provincial rather than metropolitan. Writing in both avant-garde and traditional modes, he was mainly published by small presses; and his early work, in the 1950s and 60s, gave way to silence for several years.

Yet Fisher came to enjoy a unique reputation among his contemporaries as a humorous and versatile writer, an English modernist open to American influences, such as the Black Mountain Poets, yet distinctively English and local in his concerns. Critics such as August Kleinzahler, Marjorie Perloff and Donald Davie praised him. Oxford University Press published his Poems 1955-1980 (1980) and his much-acclaimed large-scale work A Furnace (1986). He was eventually to receive recognition in guises such as the Cholmondeley award for poetry (1981) and a fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature (2005). And in 2010 his selected poems, The Long and the Short of It (2005), were chosen on Desert Island Discs by Ian McMillan, who described him as “Britain’s greatest living poet”.

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