Collected Poems, Volume One by Peter Finch

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Peter Finch Collected Poems Volume One is published by Seren Books

Jon Gower

Reading this bestselling 500-page volume of Peter Finch’s poetry is like setting off a massive firework display.

Light blue paper, pause, put on welding goggles, then enjoy the pyrotechnics, the magnesium flares of verbs, the sherbet fizz of nouns, the crackle rockets of worms as they burst, illuminate and blaze with various ways.

See, it’s contagious.

And this is only the first volume of his “Collected Poems”, covering thirty years of intense experiments, creating poetry and breaking the general rules. It also involves diligent collecting, as it brings together material from limited special issues and chapbooks that are not readily available, giving us the opportunity to consider the character, caliber and full range of this endlessly entertaining poet over three decades of writing.

The Engine Room of Verse

It’s a singular and special poetic voice and he certainly didn’t play by the rules or follow the standards.

Peter Finch toiled in the engine room of verse during the so-called poetry wars of the 1970s – when conservative practitioners were battling the avant-garde – and continued to generate verse during a much larger revolution when online outlets have disarmed cultural gatekeepers and poets. found new audiences on the Internet.

All the while, Finch was his own poetry industry. He notes that he “now takes advantage of my modernist upbringing: finding that what I have been doing for thirty years is fashionable again; watching others hijack old ideas and retread them as if they were new and as if they were their own.

Peter Finch doesn’t want the words to live quietly on the page, he wants to get up and deliver them and has done so and still does so with great momentum and inventiveness.

I’ve seen him eat a Mills and Boon novel as part of his routine and delight audiences with twisting, effervescent sound poems that push poetry to the edge and then push it back.

“Push the idea until it breaks, blooms or dissolves,” as he puts it. And because he’s made the circuit of literary readings and events, he can offer sage advice to those wishing to perform in public.

In “Advice for Abusers,” he suggests, “Before you start, smile/Before you smile, locate the door.”

Experimental

The poems sometimes explore Wales and the Welsh landscape through an experimental lens, allowing for a bit of refraction and contortion. And fun too.

There is a fake biography of RSThomas including two words that may seem to sum up Thomas and his poetry – “Gospel. Austerity.”

Finch is certainly not poetic, reverential poetry: he is too delighted with what is there when you rummage through the toybox of language to stand too long in awe of the world or go all the way to Wordsworth .

And he draws on material from many sources to inspire him.

He describes himself as a “full-time poet, psychogeographer, critic, author, rock fan and literary entrepreneur”. .

The volume of course includes some of Finch’s greatest hits, such as “Welsh Wordscape”, the first part of which goes like this:

Living in Wales,

Must be mumbled to
by the reincarnations of Dylan Thomas
under many different disguises.

must be broke
with the same words
at least six times a week.

Is to be bored
by Welsh visionaries
with wild hair and gray suits.

must be said
incredible agony
from an exile
it can be maximum
a day’s drive away.

And the sheep, the sheep,
the bloody, flea-bitten Welsh sheep,
hunted on the same hills
by a thousand poetic phrases
all say the same things.

Living in Wales
is to love sheep
and be afraid
of dragons.

It’s hard to read this popular poem without concluding that some things never change.

Critical

The poems featured here include prose poems and experimental verse that takes individual words as far as they can stretch: one poem plays with the word “moon” so that it fills a whole bunch of pages.

The poem, “On Criticism,” meanwhile, takes the form of various pages of a book of criticism (diplomatically unidentifiable) all crumpled up as if destined for the trash.

A poem like “All I Need Is Three Plums” is, in a sense, a long apology, but what a funny one, mixing confession with self-mockery and nodding at William Carlos Williams as he does (Williams wrote a poem called “It’s just to say” about stealing plums and Finch seems to steal the idea as if he were looking in the same refrigerator.)

A few sample stanzas capture the abject creepiness of it all:

I sold your jewelry collection,
that you kept in a box, forgive me.
I’m sorry, but it fell on me
And the money was so inviting, so sweet
and so cold.

I failed to increase my chest measurements
despite the bells of the bar
and my t-shirt is not full of waves.
I’m nice but that’s no consolation.
Your hand is cold.

I didn’t get the job, your brother did.
He’s a bastard, I told him, forgive me.
The world is full of wankers, honey.

I lost the dog, I’m sorry.
He never liked me, I’m hardly inviting.
I took her leash off in the park and
the pig chased a cat i couldn’t
take the trouble to run after him.
Forgive me, I will fail less in the
coming.

You’ll see from the selection of stanzas above that one of the hallmarks of Finch’s poetry is a sense of fun and it’s not often you get to read a poem that’s full of humor.

The fun can start with poem titles such as “Putting Kingsley Friends in the Microwave” or opening lines such as “There are three skinheads in the furniture department/Trying to shoplift a bed” or by shaping poems in which some of the words are replaced with, say, the word “Bighead” as in the poem of the same name, resulting in literary works such as “Taming of the Bighead” and “How Bigheaded Was My Valley”. Not that Finch is a big head, far from it.

Product placement

Finch can find gear just about anywhere. He fashions a piece from headlines found in monthly newspapers published for expatriates and people of Welsh descent in the United States.

He formulates a sound poem to reproduce the mechanical noises of a Grip-vac, which I imagine to be a sort of vacuum machine.

There are also other shameless product placements, such as “The Perfect St. David’s Day Gift” namely foaming “Felinfoel Welsh Valley shampoo / made from real coconuts”.

Music

It’s always busy stuff on the page as well as in the mind. It creates an AZ of place names around the Severn Estuary. He names a host of poets, from John Tripp to RSThomas and Thom Gunn to JH Prynne and his buddy in poetic exploration, Bob Cobbing.

He references many music and musicians along the way, from blues to jazz, from Philip Glass to Chubby Checker, from the Shirelles to Lou Reed, from George Harrison to John Cooper Clarke. After all, all art aspires to the condition of music.

Restless, questioning, adventurous, Finch cuts up text and distorts syntax. He finds the stuff of poetry by browsing material on an OS map of the Brecon Beacons or by examining components of the neglected landscape of the Wentloog Levels.

It does all of this with brilliance and bravery as Peter Finch is a swashbuckling filibuster in Welsh poetry who does nothing less than take the tongue for a spin. A roller coaster ride.

Her joy in doing all of this is positively contagious. Celebrating pulse, rhyme and rhythm. Hazard it. Push the language in all forms. Test, test, test until the line finally breaks.

by Peter Finch Collected Poems: Volume One is published by Seren. You can buy a copy at any good bookstore or you can buy a copy here.


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