Infinite In All Perfections, Annie Fisher
HappenStance Press, 2016 £5.00
‘Infinite’, in all its permutations
I spotted the word ‘infinite’ a few times as I read through Annie Fisher’s infectiously enjoyable collection. And then thought how characteristic each mention was of the work’s great humour.
The first of course is unmissable. It’s on the pamphlet’s uplifting cover, with its picture of a person leaping or dancing (in some lucky cases, in golden slippers). Infinite In All Perfections proclaims the title (before the reader opens to a ‘Disclaimer’ that promises graciously: ‘... All the best lines / are yours’).
So where else does the word appear? The next time I spotted was in the opening couplet of the brilliant ‘In the school of unrequited love’:
the maths teacher knows if you multiply your tears by your sighs
you get infinite heartache
Ah, that’s quite a start! Infinite heartache is a lot of ache. Then, in ‘The Quiet Ladies’, we find our title mention. Again, there’s wry humour, with compassion. These poems are touching, at the same time as funny:
They were in love with Jesus, and Jesus
(Infinite in all Perfections) loved them too.
The next occurrence made me laugh (I was getting attuned to the word by now). In the heavily sardonic ‘For Terry, Who Asked if I Was a Contender or an Also-ran’, appear the lines:
Let’s hear it for Ann ...
whose infinite inconsequentiality
is the measure of your vast success
Ah, how the ‘infinite’ is thus inverted. This word is never used by halves. Thank goodness, then, for its final mention – and magnificent union I wasn’t expecting. (All the more perfect in a poem about an extraordinary and, perhaps, unexpected union.) Here, then, to close, is ‘The Scotsman Also Known as Don Miguel’:
[ ... ] and we will roam the world
with our reels,
part-songs and rounds –
like the Family von Trapp
and infinitely funkier.
What is lightness? It’s not the same as frivolity. To paraphrase Italo Calvino’s distinction (from Six Memos for the New Millennium), the ‘lightness of thoughtfulness’ can ‘make frivolity seem dull and heavy’. Annie Fisher has the right sort of lightness: she knows how to free her thoughts, allowing them float together so that they meet in a seemingly casual way. She lets them make connections, not only within individual poems but across the whole pamphlet. There’s a sense that she doesn’t tell her poems what to do but waits unobtrusively until they’ve found their own identity.
‘On All Souls’ Night’ is such a poem. It opens with a single-sentence line – ‘The road climbs through an arch of trees’ – the sort of line many workshops would kick aside as too prosy, not titillating the reader. But it’s essential: the statement allows the second line to develop an internal debate – a road? or more like a holloway, or driftway? – so ancient history starts to surface, part of a route to Glastonbury. The second stanza’s first line pulls the reader up: ‘and look – an angel’s leading me’. This could go several ways, one of which is ‘twee’ – angels have a tendency to do that, especially the blonde, delicate, nightie-clad variety. But this one has ‘feathers, gilded in the headlights’, which are ‘fine as moonlight lace’; the illusion is still there – still ‘leading me’, and the reader.
The rational explanation comes with stanza three:
Owls often fly with cars; it’s not an omen,
it doesn’t presage tragedy or death.
The bird’s not here to damn or curse,
much less to bless me. She’s more intent
on trembling leaves, small bones.
The poem could have ended there – but it doesn’t. The final stanza begins
But I’m alone tonight and part of me
still wants to trust in angels.
It’s only ‘part of me’ but that makes it all the more recognisable. We’re all vulnerable, at times, looking for a guide. In other poems Fisher draws, lightly, on her Catholic schooldays: a background of blessing, guiding, angels. Only in the title does she touch on souls and the dead but it’s enough. All the threads come together.