Finch Collected Poems is published in two volumes running to
almost a thousand pages. The books are edited by Andrew Taylor with
forewords from Ian McMillan and Nerys Williams. From the 60s to the
2020s Finch's poetry has been gathered. His visual work has been repaired,
his innovations strengthened, his verse represented in all its wide
chart the course of a remarkable writing career. From his start among
the small presses, his engagement with the UK poetry reading scene,
his involvement with the avant garde, his participation in the poetries
of everywhere from Wales to Waikiki and his determination to make
all this as public an activity as he could. He founded Second Aeon
magazine and publishing house, started a poetry and music band, ran
small press bookfairs, bookshops, bookfairs, writers associations,
the Welsh Academy and, before he retired, became the Chief Executive
of the agency Literature Wales. He was a poetry entrepreneur in all
senses of the word. He brought to all these things an unquenchable
vitality which set him apart in contemporary poetry.
The first volume makes available poems from lost chapbooks, broadsheets
and limited editions, as well as more conventionally published work.
Here are concrete poems, sound poems, typographical poems, visual
poems, poems in cartoon form or as crumpled photocopies. Whatever
their structure, Finch's poems are always vivid and alive, pulsing
with inventive energy. As he says himself, this is work which pushes
the idea on until it breaks, flowers, or dissolves. Finch's writing
can never be taken for granted.
volume includes poems from further on into his career, in which poetry
also began to appear in his prose books, and in the public realm on
sculptures, walls and buildings of his native Cardiff. This work continued
to 'operate at the far edges of what poetry is understood to be'.
Although the poetry landscape of Britain might have changed since
his first published poem in 1965, his desire to experiment, to question
what constitutes a poem, and to challenge orthodoxy has remained both
undiminished and relevant.
The Collected Poems demonstrates also a restless exploration of the
ideas behind the work itself. It is a testament to the experimental
in literature, to ways of pushing boundaries and of doing things differently,
and to an alternative modernist culture in Wales and Britain.
Consequently, and invaluably,
Finch's work opens a window on a poetry scene seemingly lost from
view to the twenty-first century. It reminds us that there was interesting
and vital writing happening outside of what has now calcified into
the canon of twentieth century British poetry. And that Finch was
at its cutting edge.
Editor Andrew Taylor has included an informative Introduction, an
extensive timeline of Finch's artistic activity, along with helpful
notes. Vol One has a preface by poet Nerys Williams. Vol Two has a
preface from Ian McMillan.
Signed copies available with a special two vols almost for the price
of one offer. Don't miss it.
the Critics Say
word, 'Finchian', meaning "like the writing of Peter Finch".
Whether you're familiar with Finch's writing or not - as one of the
UK's leading poets, you need to be! - it might be useful here to think
of finches the birds: sharp-eyed, smart, and agile; sometimes musical,
often colourful; as a family, remarkably diverse - all descriptions
that could be attributed to the work of Finch himself.
I first heard the poet on the radio when I was a teenager; now, as
an adult, I was pleased to be present at the launch of the poet's
collected poems, which marks the culmination of nearly 60 years of
publication. This two-tome volume is weighty, stylish, and chock full
of poetic delights, from proclamation and provocation to concrete
and cut-up, including list poems, prose poems, pictorial poems, and
more. Poems might contain an excess of brackets, or numbers, or be
made up of words that slide and smear across the page. They may resemble
a telephone directory; form a circle or the shape of a planet; or
be entirely diagrammatic. Poems might also be 'poem-shaped', resembling
what we think of as poems, but Finch might well use that form to subvert
and surprise, too.
Unpredictable and exciting, these books show the sheer range of the
poet, and why he does deserve his own descriptive word. One of the
first poems in the collection, A Welsh Wordscape, summarises exactly
what Finch isn't:
"To live in Wales,
Is to be mumbled at
by re-incarnations of Dylan Thomas
in numerous diverse disguises"
Well, Finch isn't an imitator, but he does still carry through that
flaming torch of pure unbridled energy which we associate with Thomas.
Personally, I find Finch far less morose than Thomas, who could at
times sermonise; there is no such leadenness here. Finch has always
been and still is, experimental, with a daring and intelligent imagination
that is enviable. He's always been a poet who lifts up, and off, into
airy new terrain
Finch-like. Finchian. A must-read collection,
- Mab Jones in Buzz. "New
poetry for June: Welsh summer special."
Loydell in Tears In The Fence
press world was very different in 1982 when my friend Graham Palmer
and I started Stride magazine. Magazines were analogue, usually photocopied
or duplicated, often stapled by hand, and sales were via mail order
unless you could persuade alternative bookshops to take
copies on sale or return. Even when booksellers were friendly and
did sell copies, it was hard to extract money from them; and sales
never covered the petrol I used up motorcycling round London stores
or driving the meandering route I sometimes took to drop copies off
in Oxford, Leamington Spa, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester
There was, of course, no internet, email, or social media. You could
swop flyers, leave them in bookshops or the South Bank poetry library,
and send review copies out often in exchange for magazines
you were expected to review. There were small press fairs, often in
draughty halls in strange towns or cities, with little publicity and
even fewer sales, though you did get to meet other publishers and
poets. I particularly remember the first time I met Allen Fisher and
Alan Halsey in Shrewsbury, and also meeting and propping up a bar
in Northampton with Mike Shields (of Orbis) and Martin Stannard because
the main room with our stalls in was suddenly and unforgivably
commandeered for an all day poetry reading.
There were small press
poets who immediately got in touch with every new magazine who editors
soon learnt to ignore, along with submissions of rhyming doggerel,
but there was also the delight in hearing from new authors, and in
becoming part of something that seemed alive and experimental, with
a history of 1960s and 70s revolutionary zeal, readings and magazines,
but that now walked hand-in-hand with post-punk and improvised music,
music zines and independent cassette labels, radical theatre, and
new performance and exhibition spaces.
There were of course key
individuals within the small press scene, often at odds with the likes
of the Poetry Society and ignored by mainstream poetry publishers,
and there was one more key than others: Peter Finch, who operated
out of Oriel, Cardiff. He had previous with his own small presses,
and actually wanted to stock new magazines, wanted to submit to yours
(and mine), wanted you to keep going, wanted you to be different,
opinionated and make things possible; he would heckle and encourage.
He put on poetry festivals and events in Cardiff, which is where I
was first introduced to him in person by the writer John Gimblett.
I had a Stride stall, did a reading, and watched Bob Cobbing and Bird
Yak clear a restaurant with their mix of yowling, abstract drumming
and gas-mask one-string guitar. Id seen plenty of that kind
of stuff at the London Musicians Collective, usually with five or
six others watching, but nobody except Finch would think of sticking
them in front of 200 people eating their lunch and then enjoy watching
the diners responses and subsequent mass exodus, leaving full
plates and wine glasses abandoned on the tables.
Since then Ive promoted
a couple of Finch readings in Exeter one as a support act to
Roger McGough, which he smashed; read once or twice more in Cardiff
for him; and co-tutored an Arvon Foundation course with him. And although
Ive failed to tempt him down to Cornwall, weve kept in
vague touch via emails and poems. Ive also amassed courtesy
of jumble sales, library turn-outs and secondhand bookshops
quite a collection of early Finch publications, which helped explain
the amazing and informed talk he gave at Arvon on Sound and Visual
Poetry, and also offered critical context.
Because, as these hefty
new books make evident, Finch came out of Dada and Surrealism, out
of performance and sound poetry, out of collage and cut-up, erasure
and what we now call sampling and remix. His work is entertaining,
experimental, thought-provoking and accessible; a real picknmix
in fact. But Finch knows what he is doing, and over the years I learnt
to trust him completely as an editor and poet. When he opened for
Roger McGough in a sold out Exeter theatre he began with an abstract
sound poem, and I confess I had a moment of panic. Soon, however,
the audience, who were mostly there to see the headliner, began nervously
laughing before guffawing and offering wild applause. Finch reeled
them in further with a couple of more straightforward poems and kept
them in the palm of his hand for the rest of his varied performance.
Its great that Seren
have given Finch (and his editor Andrew Taylor) so much space to fill,
and have reproduced so much of Finchs visual work, some even
in colour. Subject matter, processes, affectations, source material
and poetic influences, enter, exit and re-enter the work, but there
are always new materials, new processes and ideas in the mix too.
There is also a sustained attention to and curiosity about language
itself: how it can be remoulded, changed, abused, erased; what happens
when syntax or meaning is destroyed, when different vocabularies or
reference materials collide, when texts are alphabetized, torn up,
or turned into lists. How poetry can be made new. Always.
This work sprawls and expands,
feeding on itself and everything that is around it. It comments and
critiques, dances and debates, screams and shouts, sometimes sulks
in the corner but then quietly comes out rested and refreshed, raring
to go. It is alert, blurred, crumpled, distressed, energetic, folded,
gorgeous, hilarious, incredible, jokey, charismatic. It is often ridiculous,
always serious, never afraid to embarrass itself or satirize others,
whilst constantly acknowledging Schwitters, Cobbing, Ginsberg, and
whoever Finch has been reading that morning. It is questionable, ridiculous,
subversive, terrific, unique poetry which cannot be snared, trapped
or caged; yet Taylor and Seren Books have charmed it on to the pages
of this generous, rain-filled, assertive, definitive collection. I
look forward to volume three.
-Rupert Loydell in Tears
In The Fence, July 11, 2022
Bob Mee - The
Idea of a 'Collected Poems' Has Always Seemed a Scary Prospect ...
As in What?
You want to dig out everything Ive ever completed or abandoned
and put them all in a book? Why? Some will be so bad theyll
Except its the type
of thing that usually happens to more accomplished and better known
writers than me, and usually when theyre dead, so the truth
is there is nothing to be frightened of. On
the opposite side of the experience, reading every poem someone has
written might seem a massive and potentially draining task unless
you were planning to write an academic thesis. Even
so, I was fascinated by the idea of Peter Finchs two-volume
Collected Poems (Seren, £19.99 each book) given that he had
so much of his early work in long out-of-print small magazines
and that he is still alive.
As a kind of preparation,
I looked again at Philip Larkins Collected Poems, published
in 1988, three years after his death. Its illuminating to see
how organised and competent a writer he was when he was still so young,
though perhaps thats in part a result of the constraints of
his time, in that it was easier to know then where to pitch oneself
if you wanted to write poetry and were English. But what did I gain
from reading all of those early poems, including one published in
a school magazine when Larkin was sixteen? Sadly, the answer is not
What would Larkin have
thought of it? True, he kept meticulously dated notebooks, to the
point where an individual poem could be traced over time, but I am
not sure that the legendary librarian of Hull University would have
approved of every single one of the contents of these personal books
being lumped together and offered to the general public as proof,
one way or the other, of his historical standing. Perhaps the limit
of his intentions in keeping the notebooks was to offer any future
students a chance to assess him in terms of an essay here, a thesis
there. (Or maybe hed wanted them thrown out when he had gone.)
But the whole lot thrown together for public consumption?
Finch, being alive, at
least has been able to control whats included and what is quietly
omitted. And, even if that makes it a kind of Selected Collected Poems,
I dont blame him a bit. This way, we know he feels there is,
or might be, some value and relevance in each of the pieces that are
And I do prefer the idea
of a Collected Poems, good, bad and indifferent, to one of those slim
Selected Poems volumes that only scratch the surface of what a poet
is about. Im thinking of another book on the shelf, the unsatisfactory,
33-poem selection of W H Audens work, published in 1968. I believe
Auden was involved in the production of that, so must take some responsibility
for it. However, so much is left out that it runs like a brief introduction.
And, of course, there was so much more to come.
Back to Finch, whose work
now stretches back more than fifty years. He, and everyone else involved
with the project, will know the collective effort and dedication that
is required to get something like this into print. Its huge
but admirable and, in my view, well-deserved, if the arrival
of a Collected Poems is, in the end, to be considered an accolade.
I had a fairly inadequate
stab at considering what Finch is about in a previous blog, centred
on the books I had bought of his over the years, so dont intend
to attempt an in-depth assessment of the 950-odd pages in the two
volumes. Sufficient to say that as usual, while there are orthodox,
plainly written pieces, some apparently personal and anecdotal, and
therefore easy to understand, in others the boundaries of what people
might perceive a poem to be are tested again and again. (If you want
to see the earlier blog, its under the title of The
Value Of Doing Things Your Own Way A Brief Look At The Work
Of Peter Finch, from June 2021.)
Years ago, on a work trip,
a colleague picked up a book of Diane Wakorskis work that I
had with me. He read a couple of the poems, looked mystified and said:
I dont understand. Is this poetry or is it just ideas? As usual,
I found it hard to respond. I am no defender of anyones poetry,
including my own, or other kinds of writing for that matter, and for
all the time Ive been writing I still cant explain exactly
what poetry might or might not be. That, perhaps, to me, is the point
and why I find Finch interesting.
My friend put Wakorskis
book down and took the traditional higher ground that poetry wasnt
poetry if it didnt rhyme. There wasnt much point in telling
him about Paradise Lost or The Prelude but stupidly I did attempt
a vague stab at the suggestion that poetry may have used rhyme because
travelling, illiterate balladeers found it easier to remember the
words if they had the comfort of rhymes to hold on to, rather like
most songs. Once it started to be written down and published, by those
who could write and afford to publish, this was no longer necessary,
although for centuries people preferred it that way and many still
do. Yes, folks, I came across as a pretentious idiot, sensed it, and
fell back on the weary old chestnut In the end, its what you
like, which always translates as Ive no idea what Im talking
What my colleague would
have made of Finch, I cant imagine. We have the concrete poems,
sound poems, performance poems, whatever comes into your head poems,
even images of, for example, crumpled pieces of paper, purported to
be critical reviews in poetry mags of the time.
He does what he wants and
does it his own way. We dont have to like everything he does.
He would probably think there was something slightly wrong with us
if we did because the point is that hes trying to challenge
us to rethink, reconsider, wonder why something he has done in an
apparently odd way is how it is. I enjoy the way he explores ideas,
in the methods he uses to communicate as well as in the more formal
In his foreword to the
second book (1997-2021), Ian McMillan recalls the time Finch was guest
poet at Ty Newydd, the longstanding venue for those who want to attend
poetry courses. McMillan, who was teaching there, asked Finch to liven
things up a bit perhaps a daft and dangerous thing to do! Finch
responded by reading chunks of a Mills and Boon novel, tore pages
out as he read them and ate them. McMillan felt that in doing
so he challenged the relationship between writer and reader, performer
Terms like avant-garde,
concrete, experimental, inventive, alternative are so often applied
to poets the world doesnt quite understand or cant pigeon-hole.
I dont want to go too near those traps but to interest me a
poem has to feel like its living, breathing, feeling. At his
best, Finch involves me in his work in this way.
Some will inevitably gloss
over the stranger pieces because they wont get them.
Sounds, images, images which combine with texts, found poems, all
fit with a quotation from Finch, included by Andrew Taylor in his
introduction, where he says: It is a perfectly respectable approach
to make poetry from not what is inside the head but from the swirl
of words outside it.
Taylor also calls Finch
one of Britains leading poets. Im not really sure what
one of those is but I take the point that Finch is trying to challenge
where poetry might take us and in that sense is attempting
to lead us somewhere, anywhere, perhaps hes not exactly sure
where, to offer us the potential to move our own writing into places
we had not previously considered taking it.
There are just too many
pieces in this spread of more than half a century of writing to pick
up quotations or select one over another. Enough to say I know I will
read and re-read, look at, dip into these two books, as and when,
for a long time to come. I am grateful to Finch himself and to Seren
for having the energy and ambition to make them available.
-Bob Mee in Poetry
And More, July, 2022
Mark Blaney - Things
Fall Together | On Peter Finch's Collected Poems
This is almost 1,000 pages
of poetry, stretching from 1968 until 2021. You might think, why not
add a couple of new poems and it could have 2022 on the cover; and
of course the answer is that Finch has another book coming out later
this year. The man is unstoppable.
A quick recap if you are
new to Finch: the poems range from the formally inventive to the conventionally
formal. He is well-known in Wales as an innovator, a surrealist, a
relentless experimenter. His collections mash up art, the concrete
with the mainstream, the list poem, the poem with no words at all
and the downright weird. So to nail him down to a philosophy or an
aesthetic seems overly ambitious, but theres a thread running
from his first published work in 1968 through to what hes going
to write tomorrow things fall apart. His drive is a restlessness,
an inability to accept the status quo, a free acknowledgement that
everything is in flux and that to deny this or try to impose order
on the unorderable is doomed to failure. We dont want things
to fall apart, and the struggle against it is what gives Finch the
fuel for his vehicle.
The abstract work makes
us experience this by his refusal to conform to what we might think
a poem is. Consider the first line of Politic, a poem
from Math (1996):
The modern is (could be)
always (inevitably) historically (mythologised) possibly (certainly)
at war (rebuilding) (restructuring) (unplating) with what comes (arrives)
(sails) immediately (historically) before (after) it.
Now, theres a lot
going on in there, but if your first reaction is to find it incomprehensible
dont worry. Imagine being a surfer. The thrill of surfing
is not in trying to control the water; the thrill is in fearing you
might fall off.
More conventional poems
explore entropy in more explicit ways. In Roofer, black
sludge everywhere and the tar fix to repair / the flat
roof fails as I watch it. In House Painting, the
narrator decorates a wall whilst new neighbours are eating things
on sticks whilst thinking how hard it is / to change anything
Were there. This
is the future.
I wet the brush,
Many of the non-narrative
poems are about order breaking down and stability turning
to decay. Sometimes poems falter until the words and then the letters
themselves degrade, ending in a static-like hiss. Putting together
the Seren collections has involved some heavy-duty excavation; with
many of the original pamphlets in extremely limited editions, a long
time ago, much has vanished or has slipped down the side of Finchs
sofa. The appeal of the typewritten poem is its imperfections, and
in an endnote for Blues, the editor explains that the
lost Olivetti typewriter originals are recreated with a font designed
to mimic its decayed look.
If most of us are in a
battle to impose order on chaos, the corollary for Finch is that we
can make a poem out of anything. At the launch a few weeks ago, someone
asked Finch his tips for conquering writers block. Good question
were in expert company here. Stand up. Take a book
this is an old Mills & Boon novel, Finch explained,
I got it for 5p in a charity shop. Rip the book apart
physically destroy it. The pages scatter to the floor. Pick
pages up at random. Read out lines that leap out. Stitch them together,
and you have a poem. The cut-up technique has had its day, but as
a workshop exercise its one of many useful things you can learn
from watching Finch in action. Its a jumping-off point for something
else, and you wont know what until you get there. Rather like
stretching before exercise, you find you can run further.
At the end of the launch
the more gig-inclined of us found scraps of abandoned Mills &
Boon as souvenirs.
kissed Viola elegantly, looking proud
and yet modest in some indefinable way, mine says.
Bubbling beneath all of
this is Finchs second theme the individuals place
in the wider scheme of things. This is the middle eight, if you like,
in his rock song. Out at the edge sees the poet on a Pembrokeshire
headland, looking towards America: but dont see it. /
Mist, distance, earths curvature, / or maybe it just isnt
In Mountains: Sheep
he pauses in the middle of nowhere, annoyed by some graffiti. While
I seethe / they stand and shit. / When I go / they stay. The
world carries on regardless, whether were there or not. Finch
is touching at the existential here; keep grinding away at this idea
and, like the typefaces, our sense of identity, purpose, fades and
vanishes. But as always its done with humour.
For someone who might be described as a difficult read,
he is not a difficult read. We communicate largely by the act
of communicating, he informs us in Talk Talk.
Some poetry folk think
you cant be any good if youre funny, or at least youre
more likely to be a better poet if youre not funny. Because
being good is serious, isnt it? At the very least, you cant
be both funny and good in the same poem. Finch would disagree. Intelligence
means having perspective and having perspective means you have, or
should have, a sense of humour. In fact he wouldnt even disagree;
hed politely demur that there isnt a discussion to be
had. In Lost, for example, he finds himself looking in
my mothers shed for a missing cat Ive never seen.
The set-up is well-observed melancholy. The rain on my back
like 1940 and / my fathers hat still on the door. The
ending conveys loss and a somewhat Pooter-ish isolation in perfectly-pitched,
unresolved humour. A cat skits along the bungalow ridge tiles.
/ Could be the one. Who knows.
On Planet Finch, if you
see a random gathering of stones, your mind whirs away kinetically
in ways that the stones themselves do not. they could build
/ a wall, a harbour, couldnt they? / they dont.
Only rarely does he drift into the sour. The uncharacteristic Meeting
her lover vents an anger that does not do the narrator, or us,
any good. His car is shit fast he tells me I / couldnt
give a damn. He heads quickly back to experimenting, innovating,
and we go with him. The second brick in particular sees Finch exploring
theories of consciousness, spacetime singularities, gravity and whether
or not a clock goes more slowly as it approaches lunchtime. This is
not someone who just writes about the view from city bookshops on
a rainy day; although there are plenty of those too.
The books have been edited
by Andrew Taylor, who (slightly battleworn by what a huge project
this clearly was) introduced them at that launch a few weeks back.
This was quite an event a swish hotel, a livestream, proper
cameras and everything. Finch was interviewed by Ifor Thomas. In terms
of ebullience, anarchy and unpredictability, Thomas is the equal of
Finch. They also both share a curious inability to age.
There were a few writers
in the room and you could hear the cogs whirring. But where were all
the would-be writers? Where were the students? Where, in fact, were
the young? I was among the youngest there and, whilst I look terrific
for my age, Im the wrong side of 47. You can learn a lot as
a poet from an hour in Peter Finchs company. Imagining yourself
as a piece of furniture. Wondering what inanimate objects would do
if they moved. Perspective on being stuck in human form. Writing about
big themes without being portentous, overblown or egotistical. Perhaps
some think Finch is inaccessible or just not for them. How can I convince
otherwise? Well, wet sky like a moved photocopy is as
near to a single-lined piece of brilliance as I (or rather, Finch)
can offer. In those six words we have remarkable compression; an original
image; rhythm; sound; and an evocation of sense-memory.
Finch is a Cardiff poet,
not a Wales poet. He is urban, and when he explores the rural it is
always as a visitor. That is not to diminish the achievement. What
poet would want the burden of representing a nation anyway? The poet
wants to explore the miniature in the world of the greater; the ignored,
the rarely or differently observed. Look at the mess people get into
when they become, oh I dont know, Poet Laureate or something.
Finch is specifically and proudly Cardiff, and the Welsh fog
that some reviewers find themselves (pleasurably) flailing in is PeterFinchCardiff
Anyway, as another critic
suggested 15 years ago, Wales is Finchs adopted land, despite
having lived there all his life. His homeland is the international
one of Dada, surrealism and collage. Youre going to find poems
that will pass you by in these two collections, and youll probably
even find a few you actively dislike. It doesnt matter. If you
wont get on a plane because you dont understand how it
works, youll never go on an adventure. Plunge in, dont
worry about it too much and let the Finch hop about in front of you,
cock its head to one side, pin its beady eye on you and say yes, you
might feel a bit challenged when in a sudden flutter I land on your
knee but go with it.
The delight in ripping
things up and invention-as-fact gives the energy that powers Finchs
work and reputation. Jimi Hendrix never did wake up lost on the island
in the middle of Roath Park Lake by the way, despite what the Western
Mail might think Finch made it up. He is an anarchist in a
sharp suit, a punk with the safety pins attaching cultures that are
not usually stuck together. Sometimes this leaves the reader confused;
why call sequences of poems haikus if they dont have 17 syllables?
And I am not the first to point out that Wales is not bigger than
Texas, as one of his most recent poems claims/argues/pretends/derides.
But no matter. Long may Finchs birdcall attract us from the
other side of the lake.
Perhaps, as will happen
to any poet when they have a huge and impressive body of work to celebrate,
Finch risks becoming unfashionable (if he has ever been so, loaded
as the word is with connotations of popularity and short-termism).
Contemporary poetry has changed so much in the past decade or so,
and it would be unfair to judge Finch against it. With the exception
of climate change, the themes that concern many poets now our
identities in a multicultural world, social injustice, diversity and
equality are not really touched on. But lets not criticise
a circle for being insufficiently triangular. Finchs legacy
is to create substance from nothing, to defy our knowledge of decay
and disappearance with vibrancy, sly humour and indefatigable energy.
Brian Eno once said of
the Velvet Underground that only a few thousand people bought their
first album, but everyone who did started a band. I hope Peter Finch
sells a million of these books, and I guarantee that (almost) anyone
will have an urge to start writing poems as they are reading. Try
it now. Heres a one-word poem from Finch. Whats yours?
Mark Blayney, Wales
Arts Review - July, 2022
Steven Waling - Litter
A typical Finch poem is
er no that doesnt sound quite right
Throughout this collection
no, that doesnt seem right either
Finchs poems are characterised by
Nope. That doesnt
get us anywhere
Look, the thing about Peter
Finchs poems is that there is no such thing as a typical Finch
poem. Well, thats better, but it really doesnt cut the
mustard either. One stream of Finchs poetry over the years is
the visual poetry, featured largely in the first volume but a continuing
interest throughout his writing career. Another is what one might
call process poetry, where one sets up a way of generating poetic
material and then manipulate it through a deliberate or chance generated
technique. Take, for instance, which starts out with a familiar line
from an R S Thomas poem: Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh
hills, becomes a list of phrases around the theme of hills,
sharp grap shop shap
sheep sugar sha
shower shope sheep
shear shoe slap sap
grasp gap gosp gap
guest gap grat gap
and becomes a commentary
on the media image of Wales. Somehow, he has gone from rural Wales
through sound poetry to cultural comment and personal stories.
The surprising thing about this collection is that despite the strangeness
and difficulty of some of the poems, there is a very democratic spirit
to the whole kit and caboodle. You might think that a poem which consists
of a photocopy blur and daub might be off-putting and impenetrable,
but much of the time theres a real pleasure in them and a connection
with a readership (or perhaps a viewership) that is really inviting.
The poems from the Writers Forum book Dauber, for instance,
hint at then idea of haiku without telling you what to think and are
visually stunning as well.
Most of these nearly 1000 pages of poetry, however, are not visual
poems, and they vary between performance silliness like Modern Romance,
based on cut-up Mills & Boons novels:
To a personal account of
a visit to the urology clinic:
hardly anything hurts
front of the internet
finding out where it came from:
recurrent urinary tract infection,
external beam radiation,
infection by parasite,
printer, painter, trucker,
rubber, chemical, textile,
metal, leather worker,
smoker (greatest risk),
dark tobacco, after that light,
then second hand.
male over fifty,
worse as you age.
From the first poem, in
the first volume (a delightful comment on 60s activism),
to the final poem of volume 2, a one-word poem dedicated to Edwin
Morgan, this collection is a delight. A gallimaufry. A compendium
of forms. A dictionary of discovery. A mixtape of marvels. A variorum
Steven Waling - August,
2022 - Litter
Paul McDonald in London
and hero of the Welsh avant garde, Peter Finch is a writer for whom
the phrase force of nature could have been invented. Come
to think of it, he probably invented it himself, or spliced it together
in a cut-up. Now in his mid-seventies, the shaven headed septuagenarian
feels more culturally relevant than ever, not least because of his
verve and iconoclasm. If, like him, youve an appetite for literary
subversion, youll find his double volume Collected Poems good
enough to eat.
The books begin at the
beginning, so I will too. Like so many emerging poets in the 60s,
Finch was inspired by Ginsbergs Howl, together
with The Mersey Sound poets, McGough, Patten, and Henri. Their writing
gave him permission to exist outside the literary establishment, and
instilled a desire to create his own poetry magazine, the Second Aeon,
which launched in 1966. Initially little more than a showcase for
his own work, it ran for 21 issues, becoming hugely influential. It
brought him into contact with a broad range of writers, including
concrete poet Sylvester Houédard, proto-postmodernist Nicholas
Zurbrugg, and sound poets like Henri Chopin and Bob Cobbing. Their
influence can be seen in Finchs early works like Antarktika,
the visual score for, and transcription from a sound-text composition
made on a stereophonic cassette recorder, and Blats, a
collection of none poems, whose composition involves chance,
which, Finch reminds us in his original introduction, is the
natural order of things. Such experimentation is well represented
in both volumes of Collected Poems, which are characterised by Serens
high production values. One of my favourite visual poems from volume
one, for instance, is Walking, a tribute to the poet Eric
Mottram created by photocopying Mottrams Selected Poems onto
a single sheet and then manipulating the text. As Andrew Taylor tells
us, Finch then inserts Mottram himself into the new Snowdonia-like
textscape as a red dot. In the original publication, Finch avoided
the cost of colour printing by adding the red dots by hand, but Seren
has a bigger budget and a broader palette, and Mottram enjoys a more
permanent position on the printed page. Its a striking image
that Ive looked at so many times that my copy now falls open
to reveal a red dot ascending a mountain of semi-obliterated text.
both volumes, but sits alongside a wealth of accessible material.
In one interview Finch says that, when it comes to a poets relationship
with the public, The trick is to avoid impenetrability and get
the balance right, and I think he manages to do that in much
of his writing. While he frequently covers difficult territory, and
some of his work is cryptic in the extreme, you cant help but
be struck by the creative intelligence behind it, and the sense that
he has our best interests at heart. Bob Cobbing had a word for Finchs
aesthetic verbivocovisual which is appropriate
in that, while you often need to see and/or hear his work in order
to fully appreciate it, much can be consumed in the usual way. Indeed,
the irreverence and intertextuality of Finchs visual poems and
cut-ups can be seen in his more conventional writing. Take, for example,
All I Need Is Three Plums, which, as you may guess from
the title, is in playful dialogue with William Carlos Williams. It
I have sold your jewellery
which you kept in a box, forgive me.
I am sorry, but it came upon me
and the money was so inviting, so sweet
and so cold.
I like the way this exposes
the moral implications of Williamss This is Just To Say,
forcing us to reflect on the nature of trust, theft, transgression
and forgiveness. It transforms the impact of the speakers plea
to be forgiven, and the language employed to justify his behaviour.
Please forgive me, I have
taken the money
you have been saving in the ceramic pig
and spent it on drink, so sweet and inviting.
This is just to say I am in the pub
where I have purchased the fat guy from
Merthyr's entire collection of scratch and win.
All I need now is three delicious plums.
Forgive me, sweetie,
these things just happen.
I love the jokey references
to the original, like the delightful reworking of the word sweet
in the final stanza, Forgive me, sweetie; it exposes the
duplicity and latent hostility of Williamss speaker, inviting
us re-examine his professed contrition, reminding us that confessions
are narratives designed to excuse the penitent.
Finchs attitude to
the literary canon is gloriously subversive, as can also be seen in
his text message reworking of Wordsworths Composed upon
N Wst Brdg:
'nvr saw nvr flt clm so deep!!!
rvr flws at hs sweet wll (own):
Deer GD! vry hses seem slp | |
+ all tht BIG HRT lyng still!
Again this is indicative
of Finchs playfulness, which is often overtly comic: if youve
ever seen him read youll know that humour frequently combines
with his infectious enthusiasm, making for powerful and often hilarious
As a psychogeographer,
Finchs principal interest is Wales, and particularly his beloved
Cardiff. He is the author of Real Cardiff 1, 2, and 3, together with
Real Wales, among other place-based books, and hundreds of individual
poems about the region. Again his poems about place range from the
experimental to the conventional; Wales-themed list poems abound,
for instance, such as The City Region, which lists Cardiff
street names, and Colon which presents a list of Welsh
battles. Im particularly fond of his Zen Cymru haikus:
This Wales leaks there
We cant miss the
homophonic pun, but theres more to it than this. To me this
poem is quintessentially Finchian, partly because of the humour, and
partly because of its unwillingness to be reduced to a single meaning.
The implication is that there isnt a definition of Wales that
doesnt leak, in the sense that the place will always
evade definitive descriptions. Finch persistently works against definition:
his writing, just like his favourite subject of Wales, invariably
refuses to be pinned down.
In his foreword to the
second volume, Ian McMillan relates an anecdote about once inviting
Finch to talk to a group of his students. McMillan told Finch that
the class needed livening up, which the latter clearly took as a challenge.
Having begun by reading a few conventional poems, Finch produced a
copy of a Mills and Boon book and began reading from that. As he read
he started tearing out the pages and eating them. McMillan considers
this a deep examination of the relationship of the writer and
the reader, the performer and the audience, which seems like
a fair point. The ultimate meaning of such experiments remains elusive,
of course, but the world is better for them. They have driven Finchs
art since the sixties, and while they dont always find such
radical expression as the literal consumption of printed text, theyre
rarely predictable, or boring. You might say theyre what make
both volumes of Collected Poems good enough to eat, and at close to
1000 pages its a copious repast.
Paul McDonald in London
Grip - international online cultural magazine - August, 2022
Air Freshners for the
poem "produced by writing through both volumes of Peter Finchs
Collected Poems (Seren, 2022), using the first and last lines of each
page, but selecting from them" Included in an edition
of Andrew Taylor's online magazine, M58.
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