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Aeon magazine 1966 - 1974. Second Aeon Publications 1968
most prominent and best established avant-garde poetry magazine
of the period"
- Peter Barry, Poetry Wars, Salt, 2006
A Brief History
Barricades: An Account by Martin Booth
A Brief History
journal of contemporary poetry, graphics, fiction and reviews
ran from late 1966 to mid 1974. Issue 1 was 6 pages of foolscap
(the precursor to A4) with a circulation of a hundred copies.
Issue 21 ran to 268 in B-format with a circulation of several
thousand. It was the British poetry magazine of the
period featuring most UK writers and leavened with Americans
and the rest of the non-English speaking world in translation.
The magazine had a strong leaning towards the innovative
and regularly included concrete and experimental works in
its pages. A great strength was The Small Press Scene,
a vast and comprehensive round-up of activity among poetry
and alternative publishers world-wide.
began at Finch's family home in Queensbury Road but developed
and hugely expanded its reach at his Maplewood Court flat
in Llandaff North, Cardiff. The magazine was one of Wales
great literary gifts to the world-wide poetry scene. For
most of its run Finch edited and produced the magazine single-handedly.
Financial help came from Welsh Arts Council grant aid and
personal sponsorship from the poet and industrialist the
late Cyril Hodges. For a few of its later issues the poet
John Tripp helped compile magazine round-ups. The Post Office
who disliked having their pillar boxes filled to overflowing
with subscribers' copies offered to stick the stamps on.
From the magazine
spun Second Aeon Publications. These were a series of small
booklets, broadsheets and later decently sized bound volumes
which eventually reached more than 80 in number. The series
sold off the back of the magazine, often attracting their
own discrete grant aid.
the magazine was initially on a Gestetner duplicator moving
(by issue #13) to offset-litho. Print was by Brown's of
Bolton, shipped to Cardiff by articulated lorry and (once)
left in stacked brown-paper packets in the drenching South
Wales rain. The booklets were sometimes home assembled,
collated, long-arm stapled, trimmed although just as often
produced professionally by local jobbing printers. Setting
was either home done on electric vari-typer or via a bureau.
subscriptions, poetry, prose and books and magazines for
review came from all over the world. In storage they filled
at least a double garage.
When the magazine
began Finch was working in local government; it ceased when
he moved to a new post running the Welsh Arts Council's
new Charlles Street bookshop,Oriel. Giving up the
grant aid was one of the conditions of the post. The magazine
went out while it was still very much on top.
The history of
the period was one of internecine warfare between the traditional
elements in British poetry and those who wished a more catholic,
world-view to take hold. The make it new group were
dubbed the experimentalists, their position viewed
through the lens of the concrete poetry movement, their
aspirations sidelined as a branch of the advertising trade.
Looking back on it the reality was far less distinct. The
visual and sound poets were as much at odds with the establishment
as were those who preferred to work through American or
European models. Poetry was moving out of the confining
English trenches and into the larger world. Second Aeon,
with its highly catholic view of literature, was there at
just the right time.
- Mary Rudolf's Chromosomes
from second aeon issue #15
No one in the
UK at this time was interested in poetry as a whole art.
Nor were there many opportunities to read it outside the
Penguin-Faber-OUP-Cape drawn lines. The small presses, still
a vital part of literary adventure, were then of even greater
significance. If you wanted concrete poetry, chance operations,
non-referential, open field, post-beat, visual, found, collage,
or any other new approach then little magazines were your
only hope. America, despite Carlos Williams and despite
Ezra Pound was still seen as hugely distant. Europe was
a continent as far away as Asia. The celtic nations were
beyond the pale. To get ahead you needed to be male, centralist
and very English. Second Aeon wanted no part of that.
At one level
the magazine provided a literary link between the poets
of Wales and the rest of the world. Second Aeon
was initially an outlet for local Cardiff writers (through
Finch's involvement with No Walls, the local poetry
workshop) and later for the whole of Wales (through Finch's
work on reading tours, national literary events and the
organisation Poet's Conference of which Finch was
the National representative). On a larger scale Second
Aeon represented the UK to the world and the world to
the UK. Finch was a council member of the London Poetry
Society and of The Association of Little Presses
at this time. He worked to draw the strands of poetry into
a common thread. Second Aeon was supported by many.
It reached a circulation of 2500 copies, excellent by even
today's standards. It had no central office and no staff.
Copies lined most rooms in Finch's house. This was a literary
phenomena. The UK national press totally ignored it.
How the South
Wales Echo reported Second Aeon in 1968 is here.
How the paper reported the No Walls readings is here.
At London's Poetry
Library you can now read an online version of the great
19-21 final issue of second
aeon with other issues to follow. Babylon
Wales - Notes From The Margins Of Welsh Culture
features the place where it all began - Maplewood
study by Malcolm Ballin (Cardiff University) Welsh Periodicals
in English: Second Aeon and Poetry Wales (1965-1985)
appears in Welsh Writing In English - A Yearbook
of Critical Essays edited by Tony Brown (CREW - distributed
by University of Wales Press), 2007. This essay which discusses
at length the magazine's relationship with its funders and
its relationship with Wales.
Aeon Archive 1967 - 1974 is part of The Fales Library
& Special Collections held in New York (Fales Library
and Special Collections Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington
Square South New York, NY 10012). The Library notes: "The
Second Aeon Archive is comprised of all the correspondence
and manuscript material that created Second Aeon's issues,
such as: magazine layouts, page proofs, letters to the editor,
illustration layouts, and original manuscripts. Noted correspondents
include Paul Auster, Carol Berg, Robert Bly, Charles Bukowski,
William Burroughs, John Cage, Cyril Hodges, Alison Knowles,
Jim Morrison, Jeff Nuttall, and Peter Redgrove. Also included
in this collection are manuscripts used by Second Aeon's
small press to publish various poetry books and anthologies.
The Second Aeon Archive was acquired via purchase from Richard
Aaron of Am Here Books, in 1974. The Second Aeon Archive
is part of the Avant Garde Collection, collected at Fales
Library during the 1960's and 70's by Mel Edelstein and
Theodore Grieder." Search for: The Fales Library
Special Collections - Guide to the Second Aeon Archive 1967-1974
MSS.023 Dick McBride bought the original papers following
a visit to Maplewood Court in the 1970s. Finch spent the
money realised on his first second-hand car. Later papers
are either at the National Library of Wales or remain in
the editor's personal collection.
Through The Barricades
A good description
of the magazine appears in Martin Booth's British Poetry
1964-84 - Driving Through The Barricades (Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1985). An extract is reproduced here:
There was one
magazine that did the lot, publishing Edwin Morgan's visual
work and sound poetry beside Peter Porter's densely academic
work, Wes Magee with Clayton Eshleman, Philip Ward with
George MacBeth, Peter Redgrove, Frances (wife of Mike) Horovitz,
and adding, in translation, Dutch, German, French, Eastern
European and Scandinavian poetry. Pictures, visuals, abstract
doodles, traditional poems, way-out rubbish and way-in rubbish,
superb verse, experimental verse, prose poems, straight
prose all appeared in it, in issues that could be 250 pages
thick, in paperback book format, It was called Second
The most important
magazine of the period, Second Aeon was founded and
edited by peter Finch and its publication, late 1966 to
early 1974, coincides with the main poetic years of growth,
excitement and state of well-being. Finch did what no one
else either could or would. He saw the weaknesses of a system
and exploited them to overcome them and try to give some
balance and direction to what was a very loose state of
affairs, riddled with sub-groups, groups, bands of friends
Much of what
follows is drawn from Finch's own account of the years of
Second Aeon. Characteristically frank and forthright,
Finch set about his redress of poetry's ills.
ran for twenty-one issues with the first being a foolscap-sized
mimeographed slim thing of six pages and 100 copies. This
gradually expanded to the last issue which was a 268-page,
perfectly bound offset-litho production. Finance for this
venture came initially from Finch's own pocket, justifiably
so when one considers his editorial 'policy' at the start,
but later on the Welsh Arts Council put up 45 per cent of
the cost with another 45 per cent coming from the private
funds of the Welsh poet Cyril Hodges who, over the years,
had been quietly supporting the Welsh arts. The remaining
10 per cent came from Finch's pocket, advertising and subscriptions.
The magazine never made a profit that would anything like
clear the grants and private subsidisation. Sales were (Finch
says)) an impossible task for a one-man business. Copies
were distributed by subscriptions, free copies, bookshops
and a network of poetry world people who sold copies on
commission both in Britain and the USA from where Second
Aeon drew about a quarter of its material, bringing
British readers, often for the first time, the poetry of
North America, where the art was flourishing (and has continued
so to do) to an even greater extent than in the old country.
Interestingly, part of Finch's concept of the all-round
publication came from the example of Dustbooks, in
the USA, which carried out a similar function of drawing
information and work into a central set of pages. Alongside
second Aeon went a booklet production process that
brought out over 100 slim titles including some that were
of great literary merit and importance - Nicki Jackowska's
first work, Peter Redgrove's Love's Journeys and
an anthology called Typewriter Poems, the first
easily obtained collection of visual poems made from typewriter
work rather than art work.
is best outlined by Finch:
Aeon began by having no policy, only an idea to publish
myself, and then myself and my friends and then to mix
local and other poets. With maturity forced onto the magazine
by its age, size and circulation the policy, unstated,
changed to become the presentation of a bird's-eye view
of poetry, in English and in translation, in the UK (and
America) during the late sixties and early seventies.
It was an open magazine, a mix of experiment and tradition,
a redressing of the balance and a hard lean at the avant
garde. I also felt it vital to fill the information gap
… to review and mention all that went on in the
small press scene. I carried few reviews and hardly any
critical articles but did, towards Second Aeon's
end, move into fiction. The magazine was started, as I've
said, in order to publish myself. But by the end it had
nothing to do with my own work. The balance of values
in the poetry world was wrong … much vital and important
work was being ignored because it was regarded as too
radical, too different, too difficult or was just simply
misunderstood. What was needed was a common platform for
all that was going on. I tried to provide that."
Finch did. Large chunks of the back pages of Second Aeon
became listings, in tiny print, of everything he could get
his hands on with a brief comment on it. Small press work,
magazines, posters, hand-outs, everything went into these
lists which became the main (if not only) source of information
that bound all aspects of the poetry scene together. At
last, there was a man trying to cut across the petty barriers
of cliques to show what everyone was doing and, looking
back from the 1980s to those issues, one sees an astonishing
array and diversity of art. There has never been the like
since and nor is there likely to be.
bar the Welsh Arts Council's support - they are noted for
spending more on the literary arts than the other national
arts councils - albeit backed by a 'perpetual misunderstanding
of what I was trying to do', the establishment roundly ignored
Second Aeon. No national newspaper, not even, for
example, The Times Literary Supplement which actually
wrote about Poetry Review in an editorial at a time
when it was in a state of flux and under a caretaker set
of editors who produced a slightly less moribund issue than
usual, gave second Aeon a single line. It was roundly
ignored, despite the fact that practically every major poet
appeared in it. Perhaps it was, as Finch suggests, that
his magazine employed change and the set literary world
was not prepared to consider it. In addition, the magazine
hit at the self-centeredness of the British scene as a whole
and that was - and still is - resented.
ceased partly because, as I have mentioned, Finch took a
job with the Welsh Arts Council and that precluded him from
accepting money from them: on top of that, Cyril Hodges
died and it was not until after this that his patronage
became known. He had insisted upon it being anonymous. It
must, I feel, be right now to acknowledge what this man
did. Through his agent Finch, Cyril Hodges did more for
British poetry (and, to some extent, poetry at large) than
any other. He financed its main magazine, he gave it moral
support, he backed it in every way possible. He gave the
new poets credibility and the old a place in the development.
Luckily for everyone, he backed the right horse, too. Finch
was not a partisan but a cause worker and he did everyone
The most expensive
Second Aeon cost 60p. Mostly, it cost 25p though
it took £1 to produce. It could have survived, selling,
even then, at £1. It stopped, though, and it is right to
say that the decline and rot set into British verse soon
after. It is justified to feel that the demise of Finch's
astounding enterprises led to the showdown of the art. A
central cog had seized in the engine.
Back issues of
the magazine are naturally all gone. The second hand and
antiquarian market (try Abe Books) offers a certain
turnover; prices have not yet risen to impossible levels.
Check the bindings on the later issues. Sixties glue cracks
with time, open your copy fast and all the pages will fall
out. (rebind using Copydex, quick, neat and effective).
Complete files of the magazine and most of its attendant
publications exist at the UK Copyright libraries, and at
University College London Little Magazine Collection. In
the States sets of the magazine were purchased by both Buffalo
and California. Many private collectors hold complete series.
Rickaby - The Rock and Roll Sculptor
from second aeon's final issue
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