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Zen Cymru

Peter Finch
ISBN-13: 
9781854115003
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.
 

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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
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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

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Review by New Welsh Review

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Disturbance is a precisely constructed, unflinchingly observant, heartbreaking and terrifying novel of poems, a powerfully delivered and devastating firestorm of words. It portrays the build-up to and fallout from the murderous and suicidal conclusion to family life. This family has been bruised by domestic abuse, broken by divorce and ultimately obliterated by the words ‘you can’t keep my children from me... they’re mine’.

Beginning at the inquest into these tragic central events, Ivy Alvarez presents a story told in non-chronological kaleidoscopic fragments of minute detail and raw emotion. These include an emergency services operator helplessly hearing screams and shotgun blasts down the telephone line; a grandmother thinking of buying a carpet to cover bloodstains; the mistress of the murderer suffering scapegoat-hungry media coverage; Jane, scrabbling in vain to hide from a long feared fate, and Tony, a violent control freak, blaming his victims for his actions.

Over the course of forty-four poems, the reader is taken forwards and backwards in time, each poem helping to construct the wider story and often simultaneously offering a snapshot portrait of the principal character in their own words. This results in a provocative array of stylistic approaches, including a dark appropriation of the Ladybird Readers: 'See Jane run. Watch Dick run. Watch Dick chase Jane. Watch Dick chase / Jane through their house. Dick has a gun. Run Jane run.'

Within this 'verse novel', Alvarez shows admirable artistic control and a remarkable capacity for empathy. She has crafted a range of voices that, even in the briefest of appearances, reveal another facet of the wider narrative and another example of just how far the hurtful consequences of terrible acts can travel. Telling the story in verse form creates just enough distance to prevent Disturbance becoming too emotionally overwhelming to read. This method also reveals a terrible beauty within the blackest shadows of human experience.

Disturbance is a fully ‘adult’ book which may require some readers to look themselves in the eye and ask if they would have acted differently from the neighbour who didn’t want to get involved or the policemen who didn’t rush towards the sound of a shot. So authentically self-protective are some of the characters that a childlike feeling can descend on the reader seeking the need for a hero.

Among the visceral responses Disturbance provokes is a sense of helplessness. In this harsh reality, apparently definitive signs of a tragedy waiting to happen become visible only in hindsight. Wisely, then, Alvarez does not seek the moral high ground of pointing out what people should have done or said. Rather, we are offered authentically painted human responses to the kind of events most of us will be lucky enough never to be caught up in. Alvarez does not seek to suggest how to prevent these kind of horrors. As comforting as it might be to tell ourselves otherwise, such terrible acts occur because one person chooses to commit them. Tony’s choice is his alone, whatever means he uses to justifying himself:

Better to be a brute
than be far less.

So common is the real-life scenario of a divorced father saying ‘You can’t keep my children from me’ that Disturbance could be justified solely as a humane parable and warning about the dark places such a statement may lead. But the skill and imagination with which Alvarez approaches her subject matter from so many perspectives also makes the book an adventure for the mind. This is achieved without ever engendering the feeling that it is exploitative of suffering, and Alvarez leaves plenty of room for readers to bring their own imaginations into play.

Each reader will have their own individual response, just as Alvarez’ characters react individually to these terrible events. The timeless value of storytelling is that it can transport us into the lives, experiences and minds of others, and hold up a mirror to our assumptions and moral certainties. Alvarez has taken a long, courageous look into such a mirror. The reflection we see may bring us close to weeping for humanity. But not to giving up on it.

– Will Ford, New Welsh Review
See the full article here: http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=662

09/12/2013 - 13:53
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Review from Cordite

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Disturbance is Ivy Alvarez’s second collection of poetry. Its dedication to Dorothy Porter, Ai and Gwen Harwood is not at all surprising given that, Alvarez’s poems are comparably unflinching, unsettling and precise, exposing the horrors of family violence with an artistry that is always in the service of its compassion. Furthering the link with Porter’s work, it is also a verse novel, but a relatively unconventional one. Rather than following a linear progression, Disturbance throws us immediately into atrocity and its aftermath – the murder of a mother and a son by the father, who takes his own life, leaving a daughter alive. Each poem that follows is a fragment, retrospective and prospective, accumulating a picture of what we want to know but feel disturbed to approach – how did this happen?

When I began reading it, I assumed that the story at the heart of the book was fictional, a composite of many cases synthesised from research. Subsequently, I began to wonder how ‘real’ the poems were; in a way, attempting to measure the gap between poem and reality, I was reaching for the real, yearning for it. But Alvarez notes that Disturbance is ‘an imaginative retelling of and a response to actual events’. Like an exhibition of documentary photography, it presents framed yet incomplete impressions from particular perspectives, which confront us with the existence of the real while acknowledging the gap between an account and its source.

The book is both kaleidoscopic and choral. We are presented with the thoughts and memories of the mother, Jane; the police officers, in their enculturated impotence; the journalists, with their condensations and abstraction; and the son and daughter, with their confusion, bravery and cornered-ness. While the poet’s own aesthetic temperament gives them a certain consistency, each of these character voices is distinct and convincing. The grammar, vocabulary, emotional tone, punctuation and lineation, are all finely attuned to reflect their individual posture and energy. Yet the music of the poems is subtle and unobtrusive; Alvarez doesn’t want anything to overshadow what is being exposed and examined. Sentences are generally complete and naturalistic, a fusion of the mundane and the metaphoric, of the composed and the chaotic, which is quietly chilling:

My dinner rests warm in my belly.
I’ve just come in for my shift.
Familiar smell of old coffee,
stale sweat accumulates,
hovers near the ceiling.

‘What is the nature
of your emergency?’
Weariness
wears my voice.

But then she speaks.
I type quickly. I press buttons.

‘What is your address?’
The pads of my fingers prickle,
become slick. Keys slip beneath my skin. (‘Operator’)

Appropriately, there are also occasions where the language itself breaks down or fragments. Here, the poetry draws on an almost risky knowingness and wit, but it never loses its focus and visceral impact, as in ‘The Detective Inspector II’, which begins ‘ – eyes make/in/cre/mental/adjustments/in the dark’. Or, in ‘Hannah’s Statement’, where the breath catches and is held in white space:

once after my brother ran
he placed my hand on his heart

Alvarez’s language is most chaotic and unmoored when we hear from Tony, the father, whose ‘own hands must do something’. His confusion and possessiveness seem fuelled by a profound detachment – of his self from his body and from others. If there is any summary of his motivation to be found, Alvarez provides it negatively, as Tony states: ‘there is no explanation for me’; ‘Real things seem untouchable to me’; ‘I pass for someone ordinary/someone who looks like me’ (‘Tony’). Near the end of the book, we spend quite some time in his mind, which is populated by familiar and archetypal metaphors of ‘red’, ‘hunting’ and ‘dark’, yet also with surreal and unexpected images, such as ‘dust that skims/across your eyeballs’, ‘the subdermal itch’, ‘rank/bin juice’, and an account of the aerodynamics of golf balls. These bring us closer to a kind of visceral intimacy, rather than understanding.

The one poem which I am still ambivalent about is ‘See Jane Run’. Here, the central murderous event of the book is depicted through the truncated sentences and simple language of the iconic children’s characters, Dick and Jane. While only two-thirds of a page and in short paragraphs, this prose-poem seems to be Alvarez’s way of conveying, through parody, the unconveyable horror. It’s an undeniably affecting poem, but one that I am not drawn to read again.

By contrast, ‘Disturbance’ compellingly revolves around a black hole at its core – the mundanity of evil and the seeming inevitability of violence. And the short poem that opens the book, ‘Inquest’ signals silence as a response to inexplicability:

Members of the family wept
as the coroner read out
her pleas for help.

Nothing softened as they cried.
The wood in the room stayed hard
and square.

The windows clear.
The stenographer impassive.
The spider under the bench
intent on its fly.

I say ‘seeming inevitability’, because while there is an echo of a kind of ‘natural’ hunter and prey in the poem’s chilling conclusion, and while the wood stays ‘hard/and square’, the reader is constantly drawn into a state of empathy and resistance. These events, condensed into black text with such articulate and meticulous white space around them, are given to us in all their horror as artefacts, made things, which can conceivably be unmade. It is Alvarez’s great talent to frustrate us, to refuse to provide easy explanations. The only possible response is outside the book.

– Andy Jackson

See the full review here: http://cordite.org.au/reviews/jackson-alvarez-galbraith/

09/09/2014 - 11:44
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