South Wales Echo

Cardiff poet is ex­plor­ing the edge in new vol­ume

One of Wales’ lead­ing po­ets, Peter Finch is ac­cus­tomed to push­ing bound­aries – and his lat­est col­lec­tion of po­etry does pre­cisely that, writes Jenny White

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PETER FINCH’S lat­est col­lec­tion takes us deep into his na­tive Cardiff, on a road trip along the M4 and on­wards into the west, and fur­ther afield to the USA.

It trans­ports cul­tural greats to the most un­likely sit­u­a­tions – com­poser JS Bach to Sains­bury’s; mod­ernist poet John Ash­bery to Lidl – and of­fers witty takes on universal frus­tra­tions, from “c**p builders” to losing the pet cats.

Its po­etic range is equally di­verse, from ex­per­i­men­ta­tions with the printed word to hyp­notic, rhyth­mic pieces that beg to be read aloud and re­mind the reader that Finch is an ac­com­plished per­for­mance poet.

“Do you get more out of a poem when you hear it read? You do, al­ways, and es­pe­cially if it’s the poet read­ing it to you,” he says.

“The poet knows where the tricks are, where the em­pha­sises should be put, where the magic lies and from where the mu­sic can be urged to flow. For decades I read the po­etry of John Ash­bery and al­ways treated it with the up­most se­ri­ous­ness.

“Then when I heard him read, I dis­cov­ered from his de­liv­ery style and his en­gage­ment with his au­di­ence that this work was witty, that there were jokes in there among the dis­junc­tive syn­tax and lan­guage games. That was some­thing that in my silent read­ings I’d missed.”

Nev­er­the­less, this col­lec­tion – The Machiner­ies of Joy – is ar­rest­ing and en­gross­ing on the printed page, the work jug­gling a con­tin­u­ally sur­pris­ing rag­bag of ideas and mu­si­cal and lit­er­ary in­flu­ences.

Finch is a mul­ti­fac­eted writer who is equally at home writ­ing af­fec­tion­ately about Wales or in­vent­ing new names for birds.

“Machiner­ies pushes he says.

“That’s some­thing that has driven me all my life. I want po­etry to be a broad church and one where the pos­si­ble is end­less. This lat­est book col­lects my at­tempts, my suc­cesses, at re­al­is­ing this.”

At the ex­per­i­men­tal edge are grids and lists of words: the same word re­peated across a page, like build­ing blocks, or collection­s of words and phrases, some real, some dis­torted or in­vented.

“List mak­ing is a way of bring­ing form to chaos, of tak­ing con­trol of the mad dystopia out there, of or­der­ing the world,” he says.

“Tax­on­omy it’s called in bi­ol­ogy. at bound­aries,” [Poet] JP Ward pointed out to me quite early on that I had a ten­dency to list make. It’s a com­pul­sion for me, much like writ­ing it­self.”

Cardiff is an­other abid­ing source of fas­ci­na­tion, as it has been through­out Finch’s life and ca­reer.

“Cardiff is where I grew up, where I first dis­cov­ered po­etry, where I bought my first sig­nif­i­cant book of po­ems (Allen Gins­berg’s Howl, City Lights Edi­tion, dis­cov­ered, amaz­ingly, on the base­ment shelves of the old SPCK Book­shop on the Fri­ary), where I first met other po­ets, heard my first pub­lic read­ings (Kei­drych Rhys read­ing in the back bar of the Park Ho­tel and then Dan­nie Abse at Lear’s Book­shop in the Royal Ar­cade) and where I honed my art,” he says.

Finch’s work as a psy­cho­geog­ra­pher is well-known, and much of this has fo­cused on Cardiff.

He penned the Real Cardiff books, among oth­ers, and has led cy­cle tours of the city. In both con­texts he pro­lif­er­ated a myth of his own in­ven­tion: that Jimi Hen­drix, on a visit to Cardiff, woke up on an is­land in Roath Park Lake.

One of the po­ems in the book, Hen­drix Is­land, re­calls how he has since heard the tale re­peated back to him as fact.

“Yes, the Hen­drix story is mine,” he says.

“I in­serted it into Real Cardiff One almost as an aside. Af­ter an early gig in Cardiff, I wrote, Jimi woke up on one of the is­lands, stoned. ‘Where am I man?’ ‘Don’t worry bro, you’re in a for­eign land.’

“Sev­eral years later I had this tale re­cited back to me by some­one who had heard this to be ab­so­lutely true and con­veyed to her by a park gar­dener.

“Later the Made in Roath Fes­ti­val in­stalled a blue plaque cel­e­brat­ing the visit and I be­gan tak­ing rid­ers on my psy­cho­geo­graphic cy­cle tours of the city to Lake’s edge to point this out. Let the myths flow.”

In a more se­ri­ous vein, Ty Draw records a visit to his child­hood home, where he finds trace of the past all but erased.

The pas­sage of time, and ef­fects of age, are re­vis­ited through­out the book – in The Voy­age of De­men­tia, for ex­am­ple, and Blad­der, about a hos­pi­tal visit.

Has writ­ing the po­ems helped him ad­dress themes of age­ing and ill­ness in his own life?

“Prob­lems are of­ten solved or at least un­der­stood bet­ter when you write them down,” he says.

“But this should be a per­sonal thing. Turn­ing your life is­sues into po­etry for pub­lic con­sump­tion I’d al­ways as­sumed to be not the way to do it. But here I am do­ing just that.

“At read­ings it is these po­ems that of­ten res­onate with au­di­ences. I can’t tell you the num­ber of peo­ple who have come up to me af­ter­wards to tell me about their own ex­pe­ri­ences and the way these have par­al­leled my own.”

The Machiner­ies of Joy is Finch’s first book since Zen Cymru, which was re­leased in 2010.

This is the long­est he has ever gone be­tween ma­jor books. In 2010 he was run­ning the Academi, later Lit­er­a­ture Wales, and this de­mand­ing work took over.

When he fi­nally stepped out in 2013 he re­searched and wrote first Edg­ing The Es­tu­ary, a book about the Bris­tol Chan­nel, and then The Roots of Rock, a hunt for mu­sic in the States.

“Both of these works took me over and my pro­duc­tion of new po­etry slowed a lit­tle,” he says.

“The Machiner­ies of Joy in its original form would have been a two-vol­ume set to ri­val the Rise And Fall in size and com­plex­ity.

“But col­lect­ing po­etry is not the art of shov­ing it all in but the art of care­fully leav­ing things out.

“I’ve done that with my out­put of the past 10 years and the re­sults are this book.

“I need it to be two things: edge push­ing and en­ter­tain­ing. It has to en­gage with the reader and to hold the reader for at least a while.

“Things should not al­ways be ob­vi­ous. Po­etry read­ers need to work too.

“On the other hand, the poet needs to of­fer re­wards. Lights at the ends of tun­nels. En­ter­tain­ments. Hu­mour. Ex­pan­sion. En­gage­ments. Dis­cov­er­ies. I hope that Machiner­ies does all these things.”

■ The Machiner­ies of Joy is out now, pub­lished by Seren.

 ??  ?? Poet Peter Finch
Poet Peter Finch
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