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Finlay, Ian Hamilton

FINLAY, Ian Hamilton


Nationality: British. Born: Nassau, Bahamas, 28 October 1925. Left school at age 13. Family: Married Susan Finlay; two children. Career: Concrete Poetry exhibited at Axiom Gallery, London, 1968, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1972, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 1973, Southampton Art Gallery, 1976, Graeme Murray Gallery, Edinburgh, 1976, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, 1977, Serpentine Gallery, London, 1977, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, 1990; Sundials: University of Kent, Canterbury, in Biggar, Lanarkshire, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; Poems designed for Max Planck Institute, Stuttgart. Editor, Poor. Old. Tired. Horse, Dunsyre, Lanarkshire, 1962–67; publisher, with Sue Finlay, Wild Hawthorn Press, Edinburgh, 1961–66, Easter Ross, 1966, and since 1969 Dunsyre, Lanarkshire. Awards: Scottish Arts Council bursary, 1966, 1967, 1968; Atlantic-Richfield award (USA), 1968. Address: Stonypath, Dunsyre, Carnwath, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Publications

Poetry

The Dancers Inherit the Party. Worcester, Migrant Press, 1960.

Glasgow Beasts, an a Burd. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961.

Concertina. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1962.

Rapel. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1963.

Canal Stripe Series 3 and 4. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1964.

Telegrams from My Windmill. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1964.

Ocean Stripe Series 2 to 5. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965–67.

Cythera. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965.

Autumn Poem. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1966.

6 Small Pears for Eugen Gomringer. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1966.

6 Small Songs in 3's. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1966.

Tea-Leaves and Fishes. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1966.

4 Sails. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1966.

Headlines Eavelines. Corsham, Wiltshire, Openings Press, 1967.

Stonechats. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1967.

Canal Game. London, Fulcrum Press, 1967.

The Collected Coaltown of Callange Tri-kai. Newport, Monmouthshire, Screwpacket Press, 1968.

Air Letters. Nottingham, Tarasque Press, 1968.

The Blue and The Brown Poems. New York, Atlantic Richfield-Jargon Press, 1968.

After the Russian. Corsham, Wiltshire, Openings Press, 1969.

3/3's. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1969.

A Boatyard. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1969.

Lanes. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1969.

Wave. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1969.

Rhymes for Lemons. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1970.

"Fishing News" News. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1970.

30 Signatures to Silver Catches. Nottingham, Tarasque Press, 1971.

Poems to Hear and See. New York, Macmillan, 1971.

A Sailor's Calendar. New York, Something Else Press, 1971.

The Olsen Excerpts. Göttingen, Verlag Udo Breger, 1971.

A Memory of Summer. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1971.

From "An Inland Garden." Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1971.

Evening/Sail 2. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1971.

The Weed Boat Masters Ticket, Preliminary Text (Part Two). Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1971.

Sail/Sundial. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1972.

Jibs. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1972.

Honey by the Water. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.

Butterflies. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1973.

A Family. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1973.

Straiks. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1973.

Homage to Robert Lax. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1974.

A Pretty Kettle of Fish. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1974.

Silhouettes. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1974.

Exercise X. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1974.

So You Want to Be a Panzer Leader. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

Airs Waters Graces. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

The Wild Hawthorn Wonder Book of Boats. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

A Mast of Hankies. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

The Axis. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

Trombone Carrier. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

Homage to Watteau. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1975.

Three Sundials. Exeter, Rougemont Press, 1975.

Imitations, Variations, Reflections, Copies. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1976.

The Wild Hawthorn Art Test. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1977.

Heroic Emblems. Calais, Vermont, Z Press, 1977.

The Boy's Alphabet Book. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1977.

The Wartime Garden. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1977.

Trailblazers. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1978.

Homage to Poussin. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1978.

Peterhead Fragments. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1979.

"SS." Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1979.

Dzaezl. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1979.

Woods and Seas. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1979.

Two Billows. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1979.

Romances, Emblems, Enigmas. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1981.

A Litany, A Requiem. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1981.

2 Epicurean Poems and an Epicurean Paradox. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1981.

The Anaximander Fragment. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1981.

An Improved Classical Dictionary. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1981.

3 Developments. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1982.

Little Sermons Series: Cherries. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1982.

The Mailed Pinkie, with Gary Hinks. Alsbach, West Germany, Verlaggalerie Leaman, 1982.

Midway 3. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1982.

A Mixed Exhibition. Mission, British Columbia, Barbarian Press, 1983.

The Errata of Ovid. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1983.

Talismans and Signifiers; with, Sphere into Cube. Edinburgh, Graeme Murry Gallery, 1984.

A Celebration of the Grove: Proposal for Villa Celle, with Nicholas Sloan. N.p., Parrett Press, 1984.

Interpolations in Hegel. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1984.

A Country Lane with Stiles. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1988.

A Shaded Path. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1988.

Lidylle des Cerises. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1988.

A Concise Classical Dictionary. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1988.

A Proposal for Arne. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1989.

Five Proverbs for Jacobins. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1989.

For Simon Cutts. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1989.

Sundial. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1989.

A Memory of the '90s: Exquisite Bloater. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1989.

I Have Seen that Death Is a Reaper. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Woodpaths. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Golden Age. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

1794. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

The Revolution. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Mystic. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Autumn. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

King. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Sackcloth. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Avenue Studios, Fulham Road: Rose Pettigrew, Pettigrew Rose. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

4 Baskets. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Two Adaptations Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Flakes. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

3 Spaces. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1990.

Detached Sentences on Friendship. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

Jacobin Definitions. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

Heraclitean Variations. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

The Old Stonypath Hoy. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

For Kalus Werner. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

Scud. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1991.

I Sing for the Muses and Myself. Green River, Vermont, Longhouse, 1991.

A Proposal for a Garden Built on a Slope. Edinburgh, Morning Star, 1991.

Four Monostichs. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1992.

Six Milestones: A Proposal for Floriade. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1992.

Instruments of Revolution and Other Works. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1992.

Loaves: After Paul Cezanne. Edinburgh, Wild Hawthorn Press, 1993.

Short Stories

The Sea-Bed and Other Stories. Edinburgh, Alna Press, 1958.

Other

The Bicentennial Proposal: The French War: The War of the Letter. Toronto, Art Metropole, 1989.

A Wartime Garden. Edinburgh, Graeme Murray, 1990.

Ian Hamilton Finlay & The Wild Hawthorn Press. Edinburgh, Graeme Murray, 1991.

The Poor Fisherman by Puvis de Chavannes: Reflections on a Masterpiece. Edinburgh, Talbot Rice Gallery, 1991.

The Dancers Inherit the Party, and Glasgow Beasts. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1996.

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Prints 1963–1997, Druckgrafik. Ostfildern, Cantz, 1997.

*

Manuscript Collection: Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.

Critical Studies: "Ian Hamilton Finlay Issue" of Extra Verse 15 (London), spring 1965; by Bryan Robertson, in Spectator (London), 6 September 1968; Ian Hamilton Finlay by Francis Edeline, Paris, Atelier de l'Agneau, 1978; Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer by Yves Abrioux, Edinburgh, Reaktion, 1985; exhibition catalogues by Stephen Bann, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1972, Stephen Scobie, Southampton Art Gallery, 1976, Stephen Bann and others, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, 1977, and Stephen Bann, Serpentine Gallery, London, 1977; "Three 'Neo-Moderns': Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Christopher Middleton" by Alan Young, in British Poetry since 1970: A Critical Survey, edited by Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt, New York, Persea, 1980; "Ian Hamilton Finlay: (De)Signing the Landscape" by Peter Davidson, in In Black and Gold: Contiguous Traditions in Post-War British and Irish Poetry, edited by C.C. Barfoot, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1994; "A Revolutionary Arcadia: Reading Ian Hamilton Finlay's 'Un Jardin Revolutionnaire'" by Gavin Keeney, in Word & Image (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 11(3), July-September 1995.

Ian Hamilton Finlay comments:

(1970) As a concrete poet I am interested in poetry as "the best words, in the best possible order" … in the best materials, i.e., such as glass or stone for interiors or gardens. I have been described as "the leading concrete poet now writing in English." But "concrete" has no meaning nowadays. What is concrete?

My verse is not a single thing since it has changed over the years. On the other hand, I have usually tried for the same ends—lucidity, clarity, a resolved complexity. I have used many forms, from traditional rhymed verse to poems designed as entire gardens, such as the poem I prepared for the American architect John Johansen. I consider that the seasons, nature, inland waterways, and oceans are proper themes for poetry. I do not expect poems to solve my problems. I do not believe in "the new man." Possibly A. Alvarez is the stupidest writer I have ever come across. I admire the poems of George Herbert. In the context of this time, it is not the job of poetry to "expand consciousness" but to offer a modest example of a decent sort of order.

(1980) The subject of my work is culture, without any undemocratic distinction between past and present. Besides, though one knows the past is past, one may experience it as present, as Nietzsche, for example, did when he was writing on the Greek pre-Socratics. Recently I have taken to publishing the bibliographies of my seemingly graphic works, in part to categorize them as poetry, in part to alert the viewer (reader?) to the subject beyond the object—to Plutarch in the case of the "E" (aircraft carrier) series or to the European emblem tradition (see Praz, Studies in Seventeenth Century Imagery) in such reliefs as "Woodland Is Pleasing to the Muses" (see my Heroic Emblems). It is relevant to note that the old emblematists used bibliography less as a particular illumination than as a means of "splicing" the emblem to a concept of classical culture as a whole.

(1979) To my original list of proper themes for poetry I should now add culture, not excluding warships, aircraft carriers, and warplanes. Increasingly, as our culture abandons its own traditional perspectives, the idea of a poet's statement (of his intentions?) becomes a perplexing one. To whom is such a statement actually addressed? To the public—as was peremptorily demanded of me by the Scottish Arts Council—though even in 1800 Friedrich Schlegel was unable to believe in a "public" except as an "idea"? (Today the public would be 50,000 ideas.) Or is one expected to communicate with our secularizing Arts Council art bureaucrats, public art gallery "keepers," and publishers, as if they had some essential (actual) concern with culture, history, and truth? "Only through the relationship to the infinite do content and utility rise"—Schlegel once again. Where truth has ceased to be an aspiration and has become a synonym for "the convenient" (as "nice" for "pure," "depression" for "despair," and so on), statements become a matter of dramatic allegory. The life is not the work, but it is the only possible commentary on the work; the commentary "neither uttered nor hidden" is revealed by biography event as "Event."

*  *  *

Ian Hamilton Finlay's poetry has undergone a considerable evolution, but the movements in the evolution are not random or, in the wrong sense, "experimental." The main driving force behind his work may be called classical, if classicism implies a deliberate search for order, form, and economy. Yet Finlay's classicism is accompanied by obviously romantic and playful elements. He indicated something of this in subtitling his 1963 collection Rapel "10 fauve and suprematist poems." The fauve element preserves his work from frigidity, as the suprematist element preserves it from clutter and indulgence.

His first book, The Dancers Inherit the Party, contains short poems of much charm and humor—in traditional rhyming verse—about love, people, fishing, Orkney. The brevity of many of these poems is taken a step further in his next two works, Glasgow Beasts and Concertina, both of which contain illustrations closely tied to the text. As well as the enhanced visual presentation, there is again a strong infusion of humor in both books.

The visual element and the movement toward verbal economy both predisposed Finlay to react with enthusiasm to the international development known as "concrete" poetry, which he learned about in 1962. Most of his work from Rapel onward has been received and discussed under the concrete label, unsatisfactory and amorphous as that term may be. Essentially it should signify, to quote the Brazilian Poets' "Pilot-Plan for Concrete Poetry" of 1958, a poetry that "begins by being aware of graphic space as structural agent" and is "against a poetry of expression, subjective and hedonistic." To Finlay it is a poetry with links to the purity and harmony of artists like Malevich and Mondrian and in general to those constructivist ideals of the first half of the twentieth century that had been sterilized by a new wave of expressionism. Painter as well as poet, Finlay found no difficulty in seeing and accepting this formal extension of a verbal art into a visual domain. But whether his work is to be called poetry or something else, it wins over most unprejudiced eyes by its beauty and complete integrity.

"Little Calendar" can be quoted as representing his concrete approach at its most transparent:

aprillightlightlightlight
maylighttreeslighttrees
Junetreeslighttreeslight
Julytreestreestreestrees
Augusttrees'lighttrees'light
Septemberlightstreeslightstrees

But from this basis, which is still that of the poem printed on the page, Finlay evolved a range of ancillary conceptions: standing poems, printed on specially folded cards; poster poems; "kinetic" poems that release a serial meaning through the act of turning over the pages of a book; and three-dimensional poem-objects and poem-environments that involve the use of metal or stone or glass and that are produced in cooperation with craftsmen in these materials. Such meticulously designed and striking objects (especially successful are Autumn Poem and Ocean Stripe 5 among the kinetic books, and "Wave/Rock" and "Seas/Ease" among the three-dimensional poems) have the characteristic distinction of using the simplest of means and often a very Scottish and homely simplicity—rocks and water, boats and fishnets, canals and tugs, stars and potato fields—to bring out patterns, harmonies, analogies, and meanings that transcend their strongly local and native roots.

Much of Finlay's effort has gone into making his own home environment at Stonypath in Lanarkshire, Scotland, a garden of emblems and symbols. Trees and water along with plants and flowers are brought into intimate relationship with inscribed slabs, benches, sundials, and other objects in such a way as to suggest new perspectives and to restore old echoes of the relation between man and nature. A slab inscribed with Albrecht Dürer's monogram is placed in a setting reminiscent of an actual Dürer watercolor; an aircraft carrier carved out of stone and set on a base becomes a birdbath, with real birds as imaginary airplanes; the slate conning tower of a nuclear submarine stands black and sinister at the edge of a pond; the network of lines on a stone sundial suggests fishermen's nets on the sea. The recurrent use Finlay makes in some of these works and in other works of the 1970s—of formalized and emblematic military images, generally from World War II—raises questions of response, about which much remains to be written.

In the 1980s Finlay continued to produce books and posters and other printed material, often aphoristic and highly thought-provoking ("That of which we cannot speak, we must construct"; "Reverence is the Dada of the 1980's as irreverence was the Dada of 1918"). But he became better known for his open-air installations, where the range and fertility of his inventiveness can be gauged by comparing three works: the "View to a Temple," in which a classical temple is seen through an avenue of guillotines, evidence of his great interest in the French Revolution; "Lane with Stiles," done for Glasgow's 1988 Garden Festival; and the "Man of Letters," a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson. As a poet-artist sending out ideas in every direction, Finlay presents a unique challenge to received wisdom.

—Edwin Morgan

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