"Reachable, near and not lost, there remained in the midst of the losses this one thing: language" - Paul Celan
Alex Davies begins Londonstone (2009) with a curiously incomplete line from Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man (1965). ‘Though I know’, as the famous song goes, ‘that evenins’s empire has returned into sand’. Wedged assuredly in the cultural memory, these lines are often said to gesture towards some form of hallucinatory urban experience – the ‘cold turkeying’ of drug users as they negotiate the streets. But Dylan is rarely such a transparent artist. ‘The sand’ the ‘evenin’s empire’ ‘returns to’ in the song also ‘vanishes from his hand’ in the same verse. The experience is not only ‘urban’, but entirely transitory. ‘I have no one to meet’, Dylan continues later, ‘and the ancient city streets too dead for dreaming’. Dylan’s famous lyric strikes a mournful note in terms of Davies’ poem. Rather than an aimless wandering, Dylan is searching for direction ‘far from the reach of crazy sorrow’. ‘Let me forget about today’, he quivers, ‘until tomorrow’. It is at this moment, perhaps, that Londonstone is most deliberately registered. Hallucination is present in the poem, but there are no drugs in sight. It makes sense, therefore, that Davies’ text literally begins with an explosion. This ‘bomb’ represents the terror attacks that took place in July of 2005, when four individuals detonated explosives in their backpacks leading to the deaths of 52 people. ‘AVOID LONDON’, read the signs on the M52 that day, ‘AREA CLOSED’. Davies’ city is not only hallucinatory, but devoid of effective habitation. It is into this maelstrom that Dylan’s need for guidance, his need to forget, seems so urgent. ‘Each noise/ a massive point’, writes Davies of this anxious city space, ‘each person/ a pendulum’ (5).
This is the reality of London post ‘7/7’ as the strangely imitative abbreviation now goes. Full spectrum dominance is registered in a spiralling cycle of violence on the home front. Sealed bins, and trigger-happy policemen, attest to this unreality. ‘Terrible times’, as Davies writes, ‘expect bleeding’ (7). Bill Griffiths weighs heavy on this urban scene, his Spilt Cities (1999) a deliberate assonantal score in the background. ‘Pavement musk tossers’, writes Davies in full Griffiths mode, ‘tug-lust-horse-tail-till-shit-tusks’ (5). ‘This is not the smooth language of the managed word’, William Rowe once wrote on Griffiths’ own work, ‘things jut into consciousness, where the formless meets shaping forces: goal, psychiatric hospital, city’ (158). Londonstone is in the grip of events that bring this anxiety to the forefront of public life. ‘Madness’, as Davies divines it, ‘madmen’ (7). The text takes its cue from Griffiths’ own plastic language formations. This is an urban language morphing with the demands of the city – shrinking and expanding under its very conditions. ‘Spooling conundrums’, as Davies writes, ‘bony Carbonite Maneuevers,/ hansom cabs & Deerstalkers’ (6).
Much like in Griffith’s original formulations, then, behind this chaos lurks an unmistakable odour of menace. ‘Our idols’ idols’, as Davies has it, ‘sculpted/ recycled’ (8). Those behind the levers of power in London are secured within an historical imago of their own making, ‘recycling’ a vision of themselves forever played back in the grand exteriors. Indeed, Davies’ texts make perfectly clear where the violence visited on London will be felt after the smoke has cleared:
War ceremonies paint one colour,
St Paul’s furious boudoir,
Crossed out ad nauseum,
All who attend
Are four score and more (9).
In the grip of the ‘war on terror’ London becomes a distinctly monochrome place. The Manichean battle of the future is between the dysfunctional dictates of St Pauls and the rest. ‘Sputum / Mucus’, will be the raw materials that determine the health of the body politic, ‘cheek swabs / shoeprints’ (9). As a consequence Davies’ London is a phantasm of nervous voices. The real measure of the city only comes into being via the witterings of its inhabitants. ‘I’m petrified of having a fat Labrador’, confesses one, ‘damn you and all you stand for’ screams another (8-9). In the schizophrenic tension between these voices lie not only the key to Davies poem, but also the heart of any city. Privilege, and disconsolate rage, exist discretely together as point of fact. ‘These are the things’, continues the poem, ‘that keep me awake at night’ (13).
Amongst a range of other determinants Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape (2004) is an attempt to perceive of the city consistent with what Robert Sheppard calls in his introduction to Future Exiles (1992) ‘late twentieth century realities’(11). This is poetry that foregrounds its immediacy as part of the conditions that surround it. Loath to repeat the mistakes of various late modernist conceptions of urban space, this is a long poem that attempts to approach the ordinary subject matter of the city via an extraordinary technique. This meant abandoning the reticence over urban social being that came to typify romantic and modernist representations of the city, whilst at the same time developing a poetics that takes into account a breadth of experiential possibility. In Place (2005) – a text completed over a ten year period in the seventies – a similar attempt at an epic was realized utilizing both Olsonian and Poundian approaches to the material. In conversation with Andrew Duncan, however, Fisher makes clear that he considered this inheritance far too prescriptive. As he puts it, explaining the ‘reactive’ origins of his own working practice:
I’m much more interested in the poem than where it’s sending me. I think I was responding in some way, this idea of openness is a response to the way Pound and Olson had handled it. It’s kind of like saying, I didn’t think that was necessarily the only way of handling it. It gave me quite a bit of difficulty. I started reading the Cantos when I was at school, and I found it very, very hard (“A Tour” 146).
In all his work Fisher has privileged the importance of the medium over the message. Seen through a purview such as this the city would no longer become the projection of a single imagination. By utilizing ‘damage’ as an effective strategy towards creative ‘transformations’ in his work, Gravity hopes to fundamentally side step these difficulties in composition. The aim of the following essay is to explore this term ‘damage’, particularly in how far it helps to account for the city beyond the totalistic pretentions of a single, authorial voice. The innovations in Fisher’s city, then, come in how explicitly ‘open’ it remains to creative perception.
Gravity proposes not only the relief from one-dimensional structures of meaning, but new ways of conceiving of ‘mapping’ in itself. In the poem the ‘archetypes’ of the Mathematician, Poet and Engineer that appear throughout the text are shown to be repeating the logic of closure. Of these three figures, however, it is the Mathematician that seems to be the primary target for Fisher. ‘Thus through reflection and analysis/ the Mathematician distinguished values’, writes Fisher, ‘as a formal criterion for understanding/ narrative structure’ (77). It is logic that is the unruly element in western aesthetics and the Poet and Engineer as representations of poetry and the city are suffering from something of an infection. The problem with such systematic thinking is its failure to recognize the damage or discontinuities that structure the basis of knowledge as immediately presented. Or, to put it in the correct terminology, a rejection of ‘fractals’. As Fisher continues:
the wet and the solid were in a fractal dimension and
required a dialectical procedure of domination and attribution.
It burnt his eyes and gave him an erection.
In embarrassment he relaxed back at the map table
and began to show hysteresis as a problem
of percolation between the movement and the lattice
where transformation of the virtual to the actual
became substituted as domination and the desire to be dominated (77)
The Mathematician rejects the multi-layered perception favoured by Fisher, even though it amounts to erotic stimulation. Retreating to his ‘map table’ with his coconspirators he is tacked assuredly to numerical certainties, he privileges ‘hypothetical blur’ as linguistic fact. This misrecognition replaces what actually ‘is’ with what the Mathematician now ‘wants’ or ‘desires’. ‘It meant the introduction in the surface of his perception/ of a wanting’, writes Fisher earlier on, ‘a perception that included a guessed at seeing,/ a wanting that prevalourised the solution converted/ into a description, then into attributive utterances’ (76). Undergirding this logic is always the ‘desire to dominate’ or to ‘tag’ natural phenomena with words. ‘A naiveté between what is thought and said’, continues Fisher, ‘irrespective of social life’ (77).
The reality of perception simply doesn’t matter in this dominant purview of social being. Moreover, ‘society’ – or life in Brixton – completely undermines such a perspective by its resistance to such interpretations. As Fisher writes in ‘Birdland’:
Challenges the closure of meaning
So far removed, nothing will have taken place, but the place,
flattening houses for ecological reasons
fuses with a beyond,
a successive clashes in
formations, memories of bodily contact, but
warmth and nourishment do not underlie the air (82)
During the riots Brixton is a place that challenges the dominant discourses that seek to give it a particular vibe or explanation. What exists in this section of south west London is the eruption of violence as something of a singularity. Even then, this violence was founded on spontaneous energies that can neither be recreated nor duplicated in any form. This is not ‘nourishing’ or ‘warming’ to think about, but the simple consequences of Brixton as a self-referential entity devoid of any attempts to subsume place into aesthetics. Interestingly, in this section of the poem such an ‘opening’ is juxtaposed to the figure of the Mathematician perhaps as he sets off to work the morning after:
gets on a subway in a pinstriped
with a microchip blackboard. A spotted handkerchief
matches his tie. On the back of his head someone
has singed a domino it
matches his ear rings ('Birdland' 82-83)
The Mathematician is a fusty figure when contrasted as he clearly is here with the tumultuous events of the previous night. Black and white he is the very epitome of the either or polarity at the root of systems of closure. He is the limited possibilities of Lawson’s mouse trap made flesh, or a physical representation of the binary logic sketched out by linguistic traps. More than this, he attempts to engender some kind of equilibrium or harmony into last night’s ‘race riots’. Something for which – at least if the singed domino in the back of his head is anything to go by – either the locals are less than appreciative or he must remind himself of in the most masochistic fashion.
Bullied, isolated, the Mathematician exists in a Brixton that is the opposite of his monopolizing desires or ‘wanting’. To those that live there Brixton is completely understandable, but to the Mathematician who sees ‘hypothetical blur’ as closure it is a decoherence that must be pacified at all costs. ‘It is that blur, which has to be presented as measurement’, writes Fisher, and attempts to ‘dominate’ it seem like subjugation in this context. When the Mathematician begins to take some time away from his formulas and ‘accounts’, for example, the effect appears to be one of carnivalesque revelry:
As he starts to leave
his accounts, he pulls the arms from his jacket,
sets them alight.
The effect is laughter
an imprint of an archaic moment,
a threshold of
spatiality as well as sublimation.
Suddenly a path clears Sleep relates the squeezed
State to a lack of community. He leans
towards me, last night, he insists,
I had a strange dream (83)
The response to a truly spontaneous action by the Mathematician is laughter. The unexpected moment, which Fisher describes as ‘archaic’, remains the only acceptable one. But this moment only lasts for so long. The ultimate – atypical even – reaction is to envelope it in denial and closure. This is certainly what is implied in the great narrative ‘cop out’ that suggests his actions were “just a dream”. The Mathematician, insistent, retreats to a trap of his own making for both healing and sustenance. In doing so, however, he simply repeats the ‘black or white’ dogma that has plagued aesthetic decision-making in the west. ‘[It] is important to notice that notions of healing are semiotic not pragmatic, that is mainly illusory and at best figurative’, writes Fisher in his revealing lecture ‘aesthetics is still a young discipline and not a science, but imperfect fit is the more appropriate machine to engender our active enquiries’ (“Traps” 6). This ‘betweeness’, at the fold between what Fisher calls in the poem ‘naming it’ and the ‘autonomy of the subject’ is the only sincere place for meaning to reside. ‘I become a mere/ phenomenal actualization moved through a burning gap’, Fisher ends the poem, ‘the irrational state insists on control’ (83).
It is in a poem called ‘Cakewalk’, however, that the ramifications of these thematic concerns begin to be understood in terms of the city. Fisher starts the poem with the image of a woman ‘frottaged’ by ‘the Burgular/ to the wall’ (149). This image is important in two ways. Firstly, ‘frottaging’ is both an avant garde ‘brass rubbing’ technique, but also a form of ‘outercourse’ or the act of sexual stimulation without penetration. Whether this is just an artistic image created using these techniques by the Burgular, or an erotic interaction with the image, makes no difference because the telling details come in another archetype – the Informer’s – report:
The informer's report confirms
they are metallic balls of
crystalline liquids sandwiched
in saliva honeycombs and
dynamically disordered into droplets
disturb the gravel (149)
‘Oh what a wonderful world’, the informer seems to exclaim, only for him to follow this up with ‘tries to stop it and cannot’. This image is fascinating, enticing even, but the natural response is to shut this excitement down. At one point the Informer notes how the image has ‘stabilized’, whereupon he is able to approach it in the language of the ‘City’s/ sintered adhesion’ (150). Sintering is a chemical process whereby powdered metal is joined together before it reaches melting point in order to create a solid mass. ‘Sintered adhesion’, then, represents the stopping of the city. Sintered adhesion is the joining together of singularities through a manufactured process that keeps their molecules together and separate at the same time. As the poem notes, this is something the very opposite of ‘natural’:
Away from the perinuclear destruction
in his cell bodies
to the subterranean horizon
his holdings are achieved by macromolecular stabilization:
a vocabulary trench
almost voided by the means to dredge (151)
The Informer’s world is one that rejects the very biological processes that keep him alive. Even his cells are not subject to renewal but a kind of molecular stasis. Just like his alien body his ‘word hoard’ becomes a ‘vocabulary trench’ or the stagnant remnants of a language with no social use. ‘Return to a Faraday Cage’, writes Fisher of the informer’s resistance to the world of experience, ‘dizzy from the static/ metal escalators/ on the way down slope/ defines/ in completeness’ (151).
Moreover, when it comes to the city this ‘Informer’ is seen as a divided figure. He encapsulates the tensions typically encountered in poetry when it comes face to face with urban social being. As Fisher writes:
He lives in fear of breakdown
in sensitivity of capture.
His skid turns from calm
back to the consequences
of the city transcendence of its glow (152)
His failure to ‘make sense’ of the ‘frottaged’ image, his failure to reduce it into a recognizable order of things, sees him torn between the ‘city’s glow’ and the ‘calm’ and ‘austere’ garden where sincerity holds sway. The fact that he ‘skids’ between both states suggests a confusion manifesting itself in quite a physical way. ‘Place’, as he finds it, negates the city in any plural sense. Like the image of the woman, its ‘enticements’ and ‘glow’ refuse to be subordinated to any kind of system. As Fisher continues:
He cannot teach himself
to ignore the
screams and riots outside
but evades approaching darkness in both
the garden and the city moves against him (152)
The informer’s hyperactive psychological condition manifests itself in violent fits and starts as the coherence of a world he once knew dissipates in front of him. ‘Poetry and engagement with a Public’ Fisher reminds us in Complexity Manifold, ‘[is] potentially involved with self-deception, or more often, active deceit’ (251). In order to feel grounded, to feel stable, poems have to construct systems that ‘cohere’.
But towards the poem’s end point Fisher – or at least the poem’s ‘author’ and therefore voice of authority and control – switches back on that Faraday Cage. Most importantly, a ‘field of gravity’ is seen to emerge ‘beyond the garden wall’ that has a ‘simultaneity of direction’. This force is ‘stronger than hail’, and like the ‘gravity’ of Fisher’s long poem itself it ‘shapes’ the poem into a predetermined form. The Informer, who had been in crisis only a short while previously, suddenly appears to be on the ascendency. Instead of that almost Puritan fear of the image witnessed at the beginning of the poem, somehow the city has been transformed from its ‘transcendent glow’ into a commodified caricature of its former self:
The city's policy
whiteballed to ensure the informer
runs into the right kind of people
Always a light flashing somewhere
Everybody is very tired
Earning a fortune (159)
Envisaged now as a place of frenetic capitalist activity the city becomes a closed entity where everybody is too predisposed in the totalistic system that surrounds them. As a space this now conforms to everything the informer ever wanted. It is the ‘city of corporations/ glassed in dreams and images’ George Oppen writes of in Of Being Numerous, and as such it resembles the ‘wanting’ or ‘prevalourization’ of the city Fisher has already described (Oppen 114). It is fascinating, furthermore, how that image of a woman that began the poem is now perceived:
Desire and greed are matched
in a "she looks beautiful eugenics"
A chain of electro-chemical reactions
the will to keep up standards
An order to establish
An options exchange encourages favour (159)
The recalcitrant image of a woman that began the poem has now been framed, and hollowed-out, by the “she looks beautiful eugenics” of the presiding social order. This order, however, is nothing more than the chemical imprint of social mores in the brain activity of a small group of people. These are ‘beautiful eugenics’ because they both praise this woman’s beauty, whilst effectively cutting her off from any more nuanced interpretation. Kept in place by the single narrative of the city – and that beloved by the Informer who has all interpretation ‘whiteballed’ or ‘sewn up’ – the potentially subversive image has been emptied of meaning by a logic of closure that drowns all other possibilities out. ‘[A]spirations’ in such a climate concludes Fisher at the end of the poem, ‘[are] considered cohesion’ (160).
To Fisher, aesthetics today are premised on precisely this situation. There are, indeed, inventive formal techniques to create the hope of an opening, but these are soon caught up within the repetitious cycle of closure. ‘As she focuses’, writes Fisher, ‘the Photographer comes to something/ which to her is Beauty/ and stops there’ (156). The constant desire to subsume place, and personality, into aesthetics means that the poem is the site of an eternal battle between these two states of being. To Fisher the present moment is therefore perched between the smallest possibility for hope and a profound despair. ‘The ludicrous concept’, writes Fisher as part of a commentary on Gerard Richter in order to gesture to this situation, ‘that we still think we can consider ways to get through another half century as a civic and social nexus is an optimism’ (“Complexity Manifold” 251). If anything, poetic forms of representation are a particularly acute expression of these circumstances. As the poet continues during a passage from the introduction to a book of essays which is currently due to be published in 2015:
There is a large dialectic undermining this book which perpetuates the appalling logic that has sustained the disgrace of western civilization for more than two and a half millennia, an appalling logic that is necessary for the premise of this critique and its perpetuation. This is the kind of nonsense that these texts, the texts in this book, will be unable to overcome because of the texts reliance on their readability and comprehension by those who will argue for the various fallacies they will discern from what is being proposed. There is nothing to be done about this, if the book is to venture into publication it must be reconciled to this ridiculous position and must stride out into the performance of its presentation. (“Testing and Experimenting” 14).
What matters in this context is what Fisher calls ‘the aesthetic swerve, or nerve to carry on’ (“Complexity Manifold” 268-9). The brutal reality is that any erotic potential will always be subsumed under the terms of a ‘self-deceiving’ culture constantly working towards its annihilation. In sketching the fundaments of any aesthetic system it is necessary to note with Fisher how ‘reliance [on] or even aspiration to coherence undermines the process of the proposal and activity’ (268). It is these preoccupations that have unfortunately become our own ‘twenty first century realities’. The damaged city creates fleeting opportunities for Fisher, but these opportunities disappear almost as soon as they are registered. Inventive perception remains an effective technique in exposing these chinks in the hardened edifice of closure, but these methods do not account for an all-consuming ‘system’ in the way that they did for Olson or Pound. ‘[H]ow we continue’, a question posed by Fisher in Place, must simply be answered once again with the refrain ‘I do not know except that/ we must continue’ (230).
Cache, Bernard. Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. Print.
Clarke, Adrian. “Interview By Adrian Clarke For Angel Exhaust, 1987”. Duncan, Andrew. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Duncan, Andrew.“A Tour Through The Resources For Stane; Or, A History Of Locks And Weirs: Lulham 23/5/05 tape 1. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Duncan, Andrew. “Of Mutabilitie: Interview At Roehampton University, February, 2005”. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Fisher, Allen. “Complexity Manifold 2: Hypertext”. Armand, Louis Hidden Agendas: Unreported Poetics. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2010. Print.
- - - - “Confidence in Lack”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. August, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
- - - - Gravity. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2004. Print.
- - - - and Mac Cormack, Karen. “Philly Talks 19: Allen Fisher/ Karen MacCormack”. October 17, 2001. PDF File.
- - - - Place. Hastings: Reality Street Editions, 2005. Print.
- - - - “Necessary Business”. Fisher, Allen. The Topographical Shovel: Four Essays. Ontario: The Gig Editions, 1999. Print.
- - - - “Procedure and Process: Talk on Place At Alembic, 1978”. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
- - - - “Testing and Experimenting”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. October, 2013. Web. November 5, 2014.
- - - - “Traps or Tools and Damage”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. October, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
Lawson, Hilary. Closure: A Story of Everything. London, Routledge 2001. Kindle File.
Mandlebrot, Benoit. “Fractals and the Art of Roughness”. Ted.com. Feb, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
Oppen, George. New collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2003. Print.
Sheppard, Robert. “New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape”. Robertsheppard.blogspot.com. 20 February, 2005. Weblog. November 5, 2014.
- - - - . Intro. “Six Poems From Brixton Fractals (1982 – 4)”. Future Exiles: 3 London Poets Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths and Brian Catling. London: Paladin, 1992. Print.
- - - - When Bad Times Made For Good Poetry. Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2011. Print.
Thurston, Scott. “Interview with Scott Thurston, 1999”. Duncan, Andrew. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print
 It wasn’t that Fisher found Olson’s structural innovations unworthy to his ambitions in Place, but that he worried about the connotations a firmly ‘Olsonian’ influence would have on the semantic qualities of the poetry itself. During an interview with Andrew Duncan, for example, Fisher alludes to a ‘mistake’ in the early stages of the project. ‘I think a mistake I made very early on in Place… was to allude to Charles Olson. And I immediately gave this whole apparatus that was already in existence in 1950 or whenever as an overlay for the work – as a way of reading it’ (The Marvels 56).
 It is certainly no accident that the Mathematician holds prominence in Fisher’s poem, especially given the influence of figures such as Mandlebrot. During a talk on Place at Alembic in 1978 he noted numerical structures in Sir Phillip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella that sees ‘the sun rise’ in the middle of the poem as an example of the mathematical attempts at conceiving of ‘order’ in previous poetry (“Alembic” 45). ‘Those are the paradigms we would change’, insists Fisher, as if gesturing to his later position in Gravity.
 At the time of writing this book has the provisional title of Imperfect Fit: Aesthetic Function, Facture and Reception, and will be published by the University of Alabama Press.