Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections

Synopsis

This volume surveys the life and work of the Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, who is best known for his extraordinary garden, Little Sparta, a unique "poem of place" in which poetry, sculpture, and horticulture intersect. This book directs sustained attention to Finlay the verbal artist, revealing the full breadth and richness of his poetics. It illuminates the evolution from his early years of composing plays, stories, and lyrical poems to his discovery of Concrete poetry and his emergence as a key figure in the international avant-garde of the 1960s.

Excerpt

Ian Hamilton Finlay, letters; Alec Finlay, stitches

Standing on the edge of a heather moor where the Pentland Hills rise is a whinstone boulder with a single vein of quartz. This stone is a poem. Inscribed ‘CURFEW / curlew’, it invites us to hear the bird’s liquid call as it plies its oracular flight down to the valley below. The transition of letters—inward folded ‘f’ for alert ‘l’—translates natural song into human alarm. As the evening shadows gather we slip into exile; the tocsin tolls and it is time we were safely home from the hill. Imaginatively we have entered Stonypath, Little Sparta, genius loci of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Further on we may wander into ‘a small grove composed of young pine trees and delicate columns. All the needles which fall from the trees are carefully swept into heaps around the foot of the columns.’ A poem in slate catches the branches’ outline and, as the breezes shush, we read another inscription: ‘WOOD / WIND / SONG, WIND / SONG / WOOD, WOOD- / WIND / SONG’. The poem belongs here because this is where the poet first heard the wind. Carved, the words suggest permanence; sun and shade, wind, birdsong, the transitory effects of nature, they too are integral to the garden poem.

More than any other poet of the modern era, Finlay realized the potential of the poem as an object that belongs within an ‘environment’—though he would doubtlessly have preferred the term ‘garden’, ‘grove’ or ‘landscape’. To the adventurous he is an ‘AVANT-

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