Zen Cymru

Peter Finch
Publication Date: 
Thursday, April 8, 2010
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"Peter Finch is probably the greatest living performer in poetry that we've got". Chris McCabe.

Zen Cymru is the new collection of poems by that master of modern angst, Peter Finch. Not one for quiet meditations, this voice is: loud, bewildered, satirical, furious, sad, fearful and funny.

This is a Wales that missed its revolution in ‘I Chew Gum and Think of Rifles’. This is a Wales beset by: rain, the ghosts of hard-drinking poets, of holy wells guarded by heifers, of sports crowds, Ikea, sheep, “enormous storm clouds”, and the ‘Entry of Christ Into Cardiff, 2005’. A health scare merits a mini-epic in ‘The Clinic’. Elvis is seen in Asda, Merthyr. Travel brings little respite, only access to foreign anxieties and temptations. We visit ‘The Miró Minibar’ in Barcelona, look for Béla Bartók in Hungary, take a road trip to Ireland, find more rain and that “The land gives out in an emerald flail.” America offers defunct bluesmen, a murderous Phil Spector, and over-zealous security personal near the Chelsea Hotel, NYC.

Finch is a well-known performance poet and his poems have the immediacy and the dramatic impact of pieces conceived for the stage. Formal innovation is allied with themes that are resonant and deeply humane. Zen Cymru will win yet more fans to the Finch cult.

User Reviews

Anonymous's picture

Review from Planet

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Peter Finch is a one off, and his latest collection Zen Cymru, offers a characteristically unpredictable sortie through his omnivorous imagination. Readers familiar chiefly with Finch's live performances and web projects may be surprised by the lyrical scope of the work that appears in this collection alongside energetic list poems and process-derived and concrete poems (some of these latter defy citation, but 'Kerdiff' can be seen 'inscribed into the paving in Hayes Place, Cardiff, immediately outside the new central library and the front entrance to John Lewis'). These are satirical and laugh-out-loud titles like 'The Bosoms You Have Brought From Outside' and Italian Masturbazione', Seasoned readers will find his characteristic wry humour and fizzing experimentalism cut with a more elegiac turn as the ghosts of parents, friends and poets of close and more far-flung association inhabit the book's meditations, and frame the speaker's own sense of mortality;

I don't age while I'm moving. No flake
amid the sweat. The blood is bright
it remembers. The years only roar again
when I cease ('The Runner')

Nonetheless there are no easy consolations, spiritual, poetic or otherwise, to be found in Zen Cymru. Despite the reflective tone of many of these poems, there is something restlessly dynamic (as opposed to merely ingenious) about Finch's ability to switch between registers, subjects and media: his 'page' just as much as his performance work impelled by a huge verbal energy which manifests in plurality rather than the consistency of technique or 'voice'. This collection, perhaps even more than its predecessors, Antibodies, Food and Useful, makes the critic's habit of aligning textual behaviours against an avant garde / mainstream spectrum seem for once, irrelevant. Finch acute curiosity about potential of text in all its forms allows that 'poetry' contains multitudes, and that each poem is its own self-contained system (mind you, his magazine Second Aeon was making this strangely unheeded point even in the 1060's). Finch's life-long commitment to poetry finds particular expression in the prose poems of the collection - expectantly, perhaps, in 'Clinic', which begins with a sort of hi-jinx todgerology of humanities from 'the penis clinic in Victoriana', and cedes to a mediation on the experimental 'old little mags' with which Finch has been proactively involved for over forty years. From this strange and bathetic vantage-point the speaker reviews his mouldering collection of literary organs with some ambivalence:

The poems had poor life then, none now.
Most of them. Many about self. A few
about love. None of them about urine...
There are some of Mottram's Poetry Review.
Best of the period a radiance.

It's a disconcerning shift, and one that perhaps few poets would have the confidence to attempt, but it is oddly haunting.

Tiffany Atkinson Planet 201

15/02/2011 - 15:34
Anonymous's picture

Review from Eyewear Blog

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The poems in Peter Finch's collection come very much from the surrounding world: a gritty world of performance, literary engagement, and a career spent at the front line of Welsh cultural creation. Many of the poems come with a contextualising back story. 'Kerdif' ends in an acrostic that has been inscribed into the pavement outside Cardiff's new central library. 'The Ballast Back' has been incorporated into a public artwork at the entrance to the new South Wales Police Headquarters. The title poem was written as an interactive piece of web poetry. Others are clearly intended for public performance more than page, with a tendency towards deadpan punchlines or spoken-to-camera-style asides. The poetry is a lively mix of accessible and performance-friendly experimental and gaming (including a poem apparently based on the roll of a dice) and elegiac and personal. Nick Asbury, Eyewear Blog, September 2010

07/10/2010 - 18:15