Allen Fisher's Reading

Allen Fisher gave an excellent talk and a memorable reading here in Albany on Friday. Above a brief extract from that reading (he is reading from Gravity as a consequence of Shape) , via my little hand-held camera. It was a great pleasure to have him here, even if only for a brief 2 days. What I think of his work, you can gather from the following – the introduction I gave to his reading at the UAG gallery:

Allen Fisher is a poet, painter, performance artist, publisher, editor and art historian who lives in Hereford, Crewe and ‘in transit’, – he is thus a British nomad after my own heart – except that he doesn’t visit the old colony often enough. He presently works at the Manchester Metropolitan University, Cheshire, where he is Head of Contemporary Arts. Permit me to state unequivocally that I consider AF’s work as the most essential, innovative, wide-ranging, poetry to have come out of England these last 30 years.
This work is protean both in contents and forms (note the plurals of content and form). I have lost track of the numbers of books and chapbooks he has published, but that number must hover now around 130. Besides the word-works, there are of course the paintings and performances (he has been connected to and active in Fluxus / Fluxshoe since the late sixties). His two major poetry projects of epic size are PLACE, spanning the seventies and the first half of the eighties, gathered together in one volume published by Reality Street Editions in 2005, and GRAVITY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF SHAPE, started in the early eighties and recently completely. The latter is most easily available in 3 volumes published over the last two years by The GIG (Entanglement)and SALT Publishers ( Gravity, with the last volume, Leans, coming out this month). This work combines a most powerful degree of formal invention (procedural structures crossed, bent, enriched and written through by processual activities) with a political and social radicalism and insight that is breathtaking. It is impossible to sum up this work, though here is how the British critic Clive Bush has tried to describe it: “His poetry shows… a huge range of learning. His interests include ancient archeology, western and non-western traditions of sculpture and painting, mathmetics, the local history of the City of London and contemporary music.” I would add to these: astrophysics, geography, theoretical physics from Lucretius to string theory, biology, systems of healing, contemporary theoretical thinking from Adorno to Deleuze, and so on. Bush then compares the enterprise to the ambition Shelley proposed for the poet’s work when he wrote in the Defense of Poetry: “Poetry is at once the center and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same time the root and blossom of all other systems of thought…”
This is way more than the handful of knowledge with which most poets navigate their way through the world and the poetics involved go as far back as Blake whose lines “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s; / I will not reason or compare; my business is to create,” could stand as motto for Fisher’s work. But of course there always are other men and women’s work that stand behind even as individual a system as Allen Fisher’s – Clive Bush again: “Fisher shares with Pound the breadth of cultural ambition; with Williams the sense of place, the local as a complex of occasions, and of science as a co-eval creativity analogous at least with the poetic act; with Olson a visionary view of the transformations of the earth’s structure, the patterns of trade, and a fascination with ancient and pre-socratic culture; and with Oppen a concern for critical philosophy and the victims of oppression.”
Allen Fisher’s work has been a touchstone for me throughout the 35 years since we met in London in the early seventies, something I return to again and again for instruction, for pleasure, for puzzlement, for a sense of awe in the possibilities of poetry whenever I get discouraged by the poetry world. It is truly major work, and the reading of it has just begun, as I wrote in A Nomad Poetics: “We will take the whole of the new century to finally read Allen Fisher’s vast investigation into all our knowledges, the great serial constructive dérive he calls Gravity as a consequence of shape.”
Let me close these introductory remarks with a citation from his Introduction to Brixton Fractals: “Imagination and action. My knowledge of the world exists validly only in the moment when I am transforming it. In this moment, in action, the imagination functions, unblocks passivity, refuses an overview. Discontinuities, wave breaks, cell divisions, collapsed structures, boundaries between tissue kinds: where inner workings are unknown, the only reliable participations are imaginative. The complex of state and control variables. The number of configurations depends on the latter: properties typical of cusp catastrophes: sudden jumps; hysteresis; divergence; inaccessibility. Boiling water’s phase change where the potential is the same as condensing steam. Random motion of particles in phase space allows a process to find a minimum potential. What is this all about? It’s a matter of rage and fear, where the moving grass or built suburbia frontier is a wave prison; where depth perception reverses; caged flight. With ambiguous vases it’s as if part of the brain is unable to reach a firm conclusion and passes alternatives along for a decision on other grounds. The goblet-and-face contour moves as it forms in your seeing.” And now, in your hearing. Welcome Allen Fisher.

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello Pierre, Elaine Rnadell here- how are you? Great Blogg. Trying to send Allen an email -any ideas? E

    Want toask if he would like some of is books Eros Father pattern/ what are you doing these days? best Elaine

  2. Pierre Joris says:

    Elaine — good to hear! Please send me an email to so I can answer you directly. — Pierre

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