Roy Fisher as a poet of the Staffordshire Moorlands

I’d always thought of Roy Fisher as a Birmingham poet. But the back-cover blurb for his book A furnace (1986) remarks that he “returns constantly to Birmingham urban settings and the landscape of North Staffordshire.” How so? His Introduction to the book reveals he had moved away to live in the “northern tip” of Staffordshire. Seemingly around the Roaches, judging by the poems (“Coming home by the road across Blackshaw Moor …”).

A furnace may interest those seeking good poetry about the Moorlands, and I’m guessing that there may be other Moorlands topographical poems by Fisher to be found. Apparently his 2011 Bloodaxe collection Standard Midland… was (according to the blurb writers) heavily “concerned with landscapes, experienced, imagined or painted, particularly the scarred and beautiful North Midlands landscape in which he has lived for nearly thirty years.” “North Midlands” is impossibly vague, but Wikipedia clarifies: “Fisher moved to Upper Hulme, Staffordshire Moorlands in 1982, and to Earl Sterndale in Derbyshire [the Peak, near Buxton] in 1986”. Thus it seems probable that the Roaches and district may only have had a four-year poetic consideration in terms of being a ‘home place’.

Still, a major book obviously came out of that time and place, A furnace. It spirals between north Birmingham and the Moorlands of North Staffordshire. Interesting to see that Fisher noticed how the old country ways lingered on, in A furnace, even in what (even then) was horribly urban north Birmingham. On glimpsing an old woman sitting in the sun up an entryway, still dressed like a country peasant in the 1970s or early 80s…

                                this peasant
in English, city born; it’s the last
quarter of the twentieth century
up an entryway
in Perry Barr

I think that was one of the things I always liked about north Birmingham, there was always the sense that the countryside was lingering in both the people and in neglected corners. Or, in the case of Sutton Park, that it had never departed and could only be nibbled at (usually by corrupt council officials taking bits of its edge for new housing estates).

It can be had on the Amazon Kindle for £8.50, along with most of Standard Midland, in the second expanded edition of his The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2010 (2014).


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