Rupert Loydell in
Stride Magazine - Chaos
Peter Finch's work, says the back of his new Shearsman book, is famous
'for it's fringe-dwelling, its boundary-pushing and its innovation'
and has 'always veered wildly between the conventional and the experimental'.
It kind of leaves little to say in a review, although I'd want to
argue that it's more the hybridity of the work that is new; the fact
that Finch's poems are both experimental and conventional.
Some of this is achieved because Finch has a sense of humour; he
isn't a po-faced theoretician who has ring-fenced himself into a corner
or commandeered a clique. He's not afraid to make the reader laugh,
or to laugh at himself. His superb knowledge of avant garde poetries
informs and underwrites all of his texts, whatever their final form.
Many of the poems in here rely on sound, but there are also found
poems and photocopied texts. Should we read aloud or in our head?
Are these black and white blurs concrete poems, art or texts for improvised
vocals? Does it matter? The juxtapositions and deformations, the music
of the language, the organizational skills that Finch brings to bear
far outweigh any concerns about what kind of poetry this is. Finch
plunders his own and others' texts, roots around in the imagination
and delights in what he finds. The Welsh Poems may contain many works
rooted in the author's adopted country, but it extends far beyond
any parochial or national boundaries.
Finch's home is the international one of Dada and collage, the surrealist,
with a nod to innovative writing from across the Atlantic, and an
eye on the TV in the corner. Life passes in a blur, these poems freeze
frame language and regurgitate sense and meaning several pages later.
'Things grow in power and importance as they travel' says Finch in
'Repeat'. These poems are well travelled indeed. This is Finch's best
book so far.
© Rupert Loydell 2006
Wilkes in Intercapillary Space
This new collection from Peter Finch is a real pleasure. His poetry
inhabits an old border of the English language, permeated with Welsh
sources, literature, history and place, fraying into Welsh or deeper
into the common realm of sound where distinctions between languages
dissolve. From this interesting position Finch continues to mine the
rich seams of experimentalism, which if The Welsh Poems are anything
to go by, are far from exhausted.
This fairly substantial collection, printed with the tantalising
promise of a further New and Selected to be published by Seren in
2007, can be divided into three sections. The first contains individual
poems, the second a number of visual poems including a set of visual
haiku, the 'Dauber poems'. The last section is an act of homage to
R.S. Thomas appropriately entitled 'R.S. Thomas Information'. It simply
collects together in alphabetical order "deconstructed text,
found material, collage and original work, along with actual information
relating to Wales' greatest poet, R.S. Thomas", as one of the
copious footnotes explains. The poem, or sequence, enacts an exhausting
informational overload appropriate to its original internet incarnation
with footnotes in the print edition replacing the hyperlinks, but
the mix is leavened with emails, anecdotes, fantasy and poems-within-poems.
I was won over by Finch's succinct justification: "With so many
words why make more? These resources exist and need to be proclaimed.
There is a thin line between data and information and another one
between information and art. I am in the business of crossing these
lines." Finch's alphabetisation is simply an alternative organisational
structure for the poem.
The way in which an interest in Oulipian constraints, new ways of
writing and non-traditional form intersects with a sense of place
and history is partly what gets me really excited about Finch's work.
Take the first poem in this collection, 'Fold'. It uses as a source
the first lines of R.S. Thomas' 'Welsh History' - "We were a
people taut for war; the hills / Were no harder", and makes this
We (us) (I) (you) were (weren't) (won't) (will) a (the) (this)
people (pointed sticks) (prime numbers) (purple patch) taut
(tired) (tiled) (tight as fists) for (from) (frightened) (foaming)
war (wet fish) (wet fist) (wet fear); the (those) (these)
hills (hovering) (hollow) (high) (high) (high) (heated)
(hardened) were (will not) (can not) (can) no
(none) (neither) (normal) harder (holding) (heaving)
(happy as barber's poles) (hard hosts) (home)
The second section then uses the above as its source, building on
the already altered text until it ends: "(fold) (fold) (fold)
folded (fold)." This is poetry as origami, a folding that is
also an unfolding. The Thomas poem ends with the prophecy, "When
we have finished. . . gnawing the bones / Of a dead culture, we will
arise / And greet each other in a new dawn." You could see this
poem's gnawing as a part of that new dawn, a striking of balance between
internationalist poetics and respect for a long heritage.
Finch is also extremely funny. His Zen Cymru haikus include moments
of deadpan wit that slide into melancholy and out again:
Could be moon
. . . .
This Wales leaks there isn't one
- and the collection is seeded throughout with humour, sometimes
gentle, sometimes earthy. This balances the sobriety of some of the
other poems, which include the musings on method of 'How' ("Probably
the most important realisation was that the ear could lead the voice.
Hear the distortion and then mimic it. Follow the pale traces of syllable
bumping"), the resurrected and treated social history of 'Mardy
Maerdy', and various celebrations or remembrances of fellow poets
Barry MacSweeney, Bob Cobbing and Chris Torrance.
The breadth of techniques and forms marshalled here shouldn't really
be surprising - Finch has done it before in Antibodies and to a lesser
extent in the shorter Food and Useful - but it's still stimulating.
The visual poems in The Welsh Poems (first published by Writers Forum
in 1997) are high contrast, hard b&w pieces similar to those in
'Five Hundred Cobbings' (from Antibodies). The explanation that prefaces
the Dauber poems is helpful and to the point: "Haiku because
they use only the slightest amount of text, verbal fragments, half
syllables, seasoned words. They work by suggesting, by letting ideas
I will leave a final description of the collection to Finch himself:
"aficionados of technique will find the found, the extracted,
the bent and processed, the recycled, the cut and pasted, the masqued,
the flailed, the rubbed, the ripped and the repeated here."
# posted by Jamie
Wilkes : 12:38 PM
Kennedy in West Branch
Peter Finchs long career has been largely focused on experimentalism.
His most recent collection, TI samples the various styles and interests
of this wide ranging writer. List poems, prose poems, and poems combining
visual and textual elements all figure into Finchs aesthetic,
and though his poems are often wryly funny, they also express a controlled
rage. This collection is mostly in English, but Finch often skirts
the border between that language and Welsh; in fact, the complications
and slippages of language itself are often his subject as well as
his writing strategy. One poem, for example, is made up entirely of
symbolssnowflakes, flags, celtic crosses, hands, and skulls-and-crossbonesspaced
into a sort of line-and-stanza structure. The title is in Welsh: Dwi
ddim yn deall, or, I dont understand. The
list poem newjobs combines Welsh and English: varnish
remover / dadaboxer / jocyr gwyddelig [Irish joker] / high roller
/ dutch nude. His long alphabetized list poem, which has no
over-arching title, is mostly in English, but the entry for W
refers again and again to Finchs central interest, Wales:
Welsh whiteness wanting wrong wind world
welcome we winds we who winds wades white
wings with Welsh witted (half) winds winner womb
where world will where wantons whore whisperers
wife wild winds woods with wind wind woods
wide why when wind who who world white Wales
wrenched wood whipped whose water wind whom
wing whipped where well wild work wrote woman
woman was with well warbler words with window
what with winds wound weather Welsh with when
were wild workshop when what with world woke
Wales window would with was wife watching which
wind walls winter weak with wood wind willingly
wide with women when was waving with were wait
weaving with Welsh
Finchs strength lies in his embrace of large categories. Though
Wales is his central concern, almost every poem is inclusive in the
broadest sense. Writing is almost always his subject, and many of
his poems self-consciously point to themselves as constructions in
language. He is interested in everything and in how the things of
the world can be traced in text. The prose poem Swell
is perhaps typical, if such a word can be applied to any one poem
of Finchs, in that it ends on a self-reflexive note:
Round the back in the pub use your pad and get it down. Old pubs
are best. Something about the life thats flowed through them
you through the seats you sit on. Something about the talk in that
held still by the wallpaper. Something about the passion in the touch
of glass. Something about the future never imagined. Something
about the now surrounding you like a blanket. Get crisps and nuts
sustenance. This is not Buddhism you can eat them. Pick them. Let
them clog your veins. Relax. Fear nothing. Write everything down.
Repeat, another prose poem, ends with this plea for
the reiteration of poems: Come again everyone asks. Lets
hear this one that one. Youve got it top of your list bored
flat by now meaning drifted the way edges blunt and surfaces scratch
and crack. But sing it. Its the song. Nothing Is
New ends with the speaker Fold[ing] the poem back into
the pocket, and Instead of Writing ends with a surprisingly
conventional metaphor for the writers career: Its
a dark life this endless search for light.
Not all readers will find Peter Finchs work to their taste.
Meaning is often frustrated by the skittering lists and the twisted
syntax, but even those who prefer poems that maintain clear surfaces
will surely find beauty in this poets diction. Language
music haunted stillness reads one line from the poem Glow.
Whether haunted is the verb in a sentence or an adjective
in a list of words, the line captures Finchs sensibility. He
describes his work, in a footnote to the book, as macaronic
poems with no certain home, and he grounds the collection
with its title: They are the Welsh poems in tribute to John
James whose own book of the same title, published in 1967, was an
early influence and because thats what they are: Welsh.
And that is perhaps the best description of this innovative and bold
from West Branch magazine, Brucknell University, Lewisburg,
to What The Critics Say