Jon Gower talks to prolific poet Peter Finch about his work and inspiration

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Peter Finch Collected Poems volumes 1 & 2, published by Seren Books. Image by Jon Gower

Jon Gower

The great restless and wildly experimental poet Peter Finch has just published his collected poems, two substantial tomes weighing a thousand pages, both full of the bubbly and energy that characterizes his humorous, splendid and incredibly inventive work.

A Finch poem has been described as ‘always a living object, a manufactured thing, a pulsating machine made of words.

Fellow poet Ian Macmillan, writing in the introduction to this landmark publication, suggests that one way to explain the enormous productivity which has produced, in turn, so many pulsating machines is that there are, in fact , more than one Peter Finch, in fact many of them working simultaneously.

I had a cup of tea with one of the many Peters before going on stage at this year’s Hay Festival where I suggested that the publication of the Collected Poems was an opportunity to take stock, to consider his work over five decades and to see the evolution of himself as a poet:…

Peter Finch: It’s an eye opener when you look back at your career and do it in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise – being selective because even though they’re called collected poems, you’re eliminating things who really aren’t going to make it. .

And how entire books produce a single poem, a poem that will survive and it’s your choice whether it will.

So I discovered how often I was weak, how inconsistent I was at the start of my career.

The whole process was like stepping into a time machine and traveling to previous decades, previous eras of your life and reading things that you hadn’t watched in, come on, fifty years in some cases thinking that I really thought that?

Or the more you remember.

I remember the people around me, the circumstances that pushed me to do this, so it was a whole experience and an extremely long experience, collecting ghost pamphlets, forgotten pamphlets, books and booklets that didn’t hadn’t been opened in decades and decades, material that hadn’t even entered the Selected poems mine from the mid 1980s.

But Andrew Taylor, editor of the collected poems was keen to revive things that were even outside of that frame – things that had appeared in little magazines that I had forgotten about and where the poems hadn’t survived because I hadn’t kept them or sold the poem at the National Library of Wales and he had left my environment.

tongue vitality

One of the key moments in Peter’s life as a poet was discovering a copy of Alan Ginsberg’s work To yell in a Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge library, but his pleasure in the vitality of the language goes back much further.

Peter Finch: At school I was taught Walter de la Mare and I hated it and couldn’t see what it was all about.

But gradually I started reading, mostly science fiction as a teenager and reading obsessively. So I read the whole section of those books that were in the Roath Park library, starting at the top left on the shelves and working all the way down.

And I remember standing in front of them one time, looking at it and I had to do it for a long time because the librarian came and asked me if there was anything I could do to help myself and I Said I read all that, what else do you have? And it was a change then and I had to go further into a wider field.

Peter started performing in the late 1960s when he also started publishing a magazine called Second Aeon.

While there is a popular image of the poet as a solitary figure, composing in an attic, Peter was constantly collaborating with people, be they poets, visual artists or musicians, sharing with them energy and creativity.

Peter Finch: I’ve always sought out the kind of literary environment in which poets thrive, as described by Gary Schneider and Jack Kerouac in the Beat novels and many other Beat novelists – they seemed to occupy a world to sit in over a glass of wine or beer and discussing literary matters was the norm: it wasn’t the norm for me in Cardiff, so I asked where it was and spent the start of my career doing it. looking for, chasing away this bohemian, these traveling companions, people who were like me, who liked the same kind of things as me.

When I found them, I wanted to do things together.

So very early on, with David Callard and Geraint Jarman, we started doing poetry readings in Cardiff.

Along the way, Peter learned Welsh and although he decided not to write in the language, he found that acquiring the language was key to understanding the culture.

Peter Finch: It was phenomenally important. I didn’t recognize him, it came to me slowly.

But when you learn a language, you’re surrounded by other people who do the same thing and tutors who know and speak the language and the things around it – the culture, and then you find yourself loving everything about Cymraeg, everything with Cymru. , that’s what I did and the more I advanced, the more I found, the more I became interested in the world around me.

And the world around me was not an all English-speaking, working-class, coal-exporting environment, the city of Cardiff, there was more to it.

Left field

One of the poets he references in his work is RS Thomas, so is there any truth to the rumor that Peter is actually RS Thomas’ dark twin?

Peter Finch: I never understood RS Thomas at first. There was this big buzz around him and I was told if I wanted to go up I had to read Dylan Thomas so I read Dylan Thomas while RS Thomas came from left field, discovered in, for me, the Penguin series Modern Poets, where they had also published Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, so there was Ginsberg and RS Thomas and they were sitting next to each other.

Peter finds the substance of the poems just about anywhere, creating found poems and “non-poems” by tearing up the romances of Mills and Boon, in place names, reassembling words he comes across during his travels.

Peter Finch: I had started off as, I don’t know, a flower energy generation poet, but nobody really knew what poetry was, and any definition of what a poem was or what that a poem could be about quickly finding someone who was an exception to that.

“All poetry is concise,” say, and then you’d find someone who wrote a novel in verse and clearly it wasn’t concise and it carried over to everything.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about it, the more I explored it – Baudelaire’s prose poems, for example – wondering why it’s prose, what makes it prose and not poems and then I discovered Apollinaire and there he made images, ideograms and pictograms and these approaches to writing.

I could see that the edges were nowhere to be found. The further you went, the more it was like finding the universe expanding – you pushed further and further and there was always more to do after that.

One of the aspects of that was trying to do poetry with things that weren’t poetry, finding things, doing things with the diary, from writing at the bottom of cups we were drinking from, the model number of the cup, say.

And there were writers out there who did that, so I dove into that.

Peter has been said to push ideas until they break, bloom or dissolve. There’s certainly a lot of that in his work, like he has a particularly restless or extremely busy mind.

Peter Finch: Ideas come and you have to compress them before you forget about them or they forget about you and are just as likely to turn into other ideas.

If you don’t write the idea down, by the time you get to where you can write it down, it has changed.

So you have to write the ideas down as fast as you can.

Peter Finch, image by Jon Gower

The publication of the two volumes Collected Poems fast-paced and full of ideas is not the end of the story, of course, they are important markers or milestones in a poetic journey that is already advancing as the machine produces more material.

Indeed, his next volume, a handcrafted punk DIY book Just When You Think It’s Over – It Starts Again will soon appear in a limited edition from Between Shadows Press of New Jersey.

Because the Peter Finch poetry-making machine rarely stands still, the wheels must turn before they rust.

Because downtime on this extremely efficient and productive machine equals silence and it has none of that. He has so much more to say.

More stuff like this, a snippet from one of Peter Finch’s most well-known and enduring poetic hits, “A Welsh Wordscape…”

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.

by Peter Finch collected poems are published by Seren. You can purchase copies here.


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