A ril blydi Welshman

USEFUL by Peter Finch Seren pounds 6.95

Peter Finch is an "Archive" in his own lifetime. You can find him, it says in the prelims, at "http.//dialspace.dial. pipex.com/peter.finch/", where presumably there's a selection or gallimaufry from his 30-odd books, which range from Pieces of the Universe to Publishing Yourself, Not Too Difficult After All. None of this bodes well, not at least for those moored carefully in the mainstream, and one opens Useful expecting the worst. But it turns out to be a delight, continuously inventive, truthful, intelligent, as funny as Buster Keaton or Dafydd ap Gwilym, and as sad.

Some poets take pains to be "unified", in manner and in matter; others beckon you into the lean-to shack that is their life, and caper about according to mood. Finch is an exemplary member of the latter school, one minute telling you about his failed marriage and one-parent holidays with difficult kids, the next breaking you up with parodies and heady linguistic concoctions. There's the rubber "Chicken of Depression" side by side with quietist "Stones" ("they could build / a wall, a harbour, couldn't they? / they don't"), pub types seen as de Koonings, and R S Thomas as a rock group: "Rnld Tomos ... Gospel. Austerity tradition. Jnd Iago Prytherch Big Band (1959), notch, crack, gog, gap, bwlch, tan, iaith, mynydd, adwy ..."

Some of the puns and English-Welsh macaronics pass me by, as they do in the very funny "Partisan" ("I am bicupping mainly cym sticker ardvark / the dictionary cymro hirsuit weirdo ..."), but there's enough immediate reward to make one want to relish this "ril traditional blydi welshman" and his "Mabinignog crap" all over again as soon as possible. Inevitably there are a few damp squibs, but I was reminded more often than not of Joyce and MacDiarmid, and of the linguistic high jinks - and indignation - on view in recent Scottish poetry. Maybe Finch will make up the difference between getting an Assembly and a Parliament.

There are concrete poems, angry realist poems, prose poems, bathetic surrealist poems ("furniture / is such sweet sorrow / I am purple / you are laminated / plink plonk plank"), list poems, hurrah poems for such yesterday's men as Burroughs, Bob Cobbing and Eric Mottram which in any other hands would be a turn-off, and a rather annoying set of variations for Tony Conran, based on an elaborate code and, I fear, the capabilities of the word-processor.

What lifts the pieces in Useful out of callow avant-gardeism is Finch's admirable imagination and formal control. Buy it soonest.

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