Janet Fisher

Swallows are not dropped stitches
in the newly knitted morning,
nor notes on a stave of wires.

— from Just the Facts


Janet Fisher was born in Birmingham.  Babies, house-moves and illness always got in the way of a career, so in desperation she started writing poetry.  For twenty years she co-ran The Poetry Business, and now spends most of her time either in an armchair or on her Apple computer playing Brickshooter. She is alsocompleting an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Her collection, Life and Other Terms, is due to be published in July 2015 by Shoestring Press.

 

Janet at Poetry PF

 


Reviews

'Her poems illuminate small moments between people, passing threads of conversation, and make of them something resonant and universal.' — Maura Dooley

'A sense of shared knowledge with other women, a quiet expression of sisterhood without all the politicising and drum-beating, is what sets Janet's Fisher's work apart from that of other poets writing about similar situations.' — Jane Holland


‘Fisher has a talent for the acute angle, the oblique perspective, sudden shifts of light. She writes of how in ageing and illness, the familiar is made strange, using imagery that roots the imagined in the actual.’ — Lavinia Greenlaw, Mslexia

Janet Discusses 'Brittle Bones' (Salt, 2008)

 

GAP YEAR

A double spoon to measure
sugar and salt, mix with clean water,
a solution to settle a stomach,
to be ‘no saltier than tears’. 

Sterile needles, short wave radio,
nine months’ supply of classics,
sunblock, clean socks, hat and mac
for when the rains set in. 

Hug the cat. Five hour drive:
holiday queues, cars in a shunt,
hay cart sheds its load,
police wail on the hard shoulder. 

Terminal 3. Africans fly home,
Arabs and Chinese deal on mobiles.
Dash round the bookstall, last snaps
as he walks down the ramp, slips away 

behind the flats, like an actor, waving.
Three days later, a crackling line,
too much to say in seconds
so we say nothing except goodbye.

 

 

Janet on her work

The mid-eighties was an exciting time to become a writer. Maybe it was the terrible Thatcherite regime we were living under. Maybe it was the miners’ strike – particularly relevant to us who lived in or near mining areas.  Maybe it was the growing reaction to a perceived anti-metropolitan bias against poetry which appeared middle-class, academic, hidebound (though looking back I see that this again was a reaction against the ‘let-it-all-hang-out’ poetry of the sixties).

Whether it was some or all or none of these influences there was definitely a sudden flux of a new type of poetry, sometimes referred to disdainfully as ‘Northern lads’ verse’, and it was certainly anti-metropolitan, though paradoxically you could still live in London and be anti-metropolitan in your heart.

By now I was in my mid-forties, and that too was part of a cultural phenomenon: women poets who start writing in middle age. Quite a lot of us about. Kids pretty well grown or growing up, lots of stuff to write about, lots of life experience to unravel and make sense of.

One huge mid-life crisis for me was that, at that time, I was struck down with a number of serious auto-immune conditions which made me very ill and on heavy medication for a number of years. I wasn’t able to hold down any kind of a job. A friend, knowing my literary interests, suggested I should try and find a good writing workshop.

This was the next stroke of coincidental good fortune. Peter Sansom had just started his writing workshops and Writing Days based at [the then] Huddersfield Polytechnic. A great poet, published by Carcanet, and a brilliant tutor, he soon started The Poetry Business in central Huddersfield. I had always been interested in poetry, but now the whole range of contemporary poetry was laid before me. It was intoxicating. I read poets I’d never heard of, in styles that had never occurred to me. My favourite poets at that time (still are) were the so-called New York School – O’Hara, Ashbery, John Ash, Kenneth Koch, Paul Violi. New names were emerging: Ian McMillan, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Geoff Hattersley.

The first poem that suddenly opened my eyes was by Ian McMillan, 'The Mirror in the Toilet', published in The North. Not a conventional topic for a poem. But it was so real. I can still feel the icy, dangerous sharpness of the broken glass.

Poetry went to my head. I wrote and wrote. Beginner’s luck, no doubt, but I had the funny feeling that it was impossible for me to write a bad poem. I wish that were true. There were plenty of turkeys, which now stand out, as I look back. (I never throw anything away. My literary executors are going to need several big bins.)

There was a fast growth in small independent magazines, which helped. Editors were hungry for the sort of poems I and my friends were writing. I soon had some pamphlets published, and then some full length collections.

 

I work mostly on my computer – I’ve discovered this is a good way to write, though I know some poets hate it.

I also make notes in an exercise book– free writing and so on – and then work on the computer crafting or creating more poems from the notes.

Sometimes I chooses a good poem, then write another poem from it. The final version will have no trace of the original inspiration. 

What do I do instead of writing? I refer, my honourable friend, to the answer I gave earlier: play time-wasting computer games.

 

 

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