The Scottish poet, artist, and pacifist Ian Hamilton Finlay has died at 80:
Ian Hamilton Finlay was born in the Bahamas of Scottish parents in 1925. He was called up in 1944, and served in the Army for three years. When demobilised in 1947 he attended Glasgow College of Art, though he considered himself then primarily to be a writer — and indeed throughout his career referred to himself as a poet rather than an artist. After college he lived in Perthshire, making a precarious living by writing: he published a volume of poems, The Dancers Inherit the Party, and had several scripts broadcast by the BBC.
In 1966 he made what was to prove the most momentous decision of his life, by moving with his wife into a property at Stonypath in rural Lanarkshire, with extensive grounds which would eventually come to be known as Little Sparta. Here he began to work on the garden which became central to his life’s work.
The transition from writer to visual artist was gradual. As a poet, Finlay had become dissatisfied with, as he saw it, the failure of verse on the page to reflect its meaning in purely visual terms. Then by chance he found a book of Brazilian writings which exemplified “concrete poetry”, in which the look of the text on the page was as important as, if not more important than, the bare significance of the words. Many of his subsequent works have taken the form of brief poetic texts beautifully lettered, printed or cut into stone tablets, alongside sculptural pieces in which the words, if any, are used for their visual associations and evocative effect.
You can see some gorgeous photos of Little Sparta by Philip Hunter here, and there’s a nice MetaFilter thread on him from last year, which I closed with what is now an even more appropriate Finlay quote, “a little poem inscribed on a rock set into the earth”:
An appreciation by Brian Kim Stefans contains a wonderful “translation” of a Lorine Niedecker poem into Scots. Niedecker:
She now lay deaf to death.
She could have grown a good rutabaga
in the burial ground
and how she’d have loved these woods.
One of her pallbearers said I
like a damfool followed a deer
wanted to see her jump a fence (
the way she runs.
Noo lyin deef tae daith…
Och, think on aa the rhubarb
she micht hae grawn there
on her lair
an hoo she wud
hae lood sic wids.
The wan o her pallbearers saye
I, silly eedjit
gaed aff ahint a deer
never’d seen a deer
Loup over a fence ( O
Via wood s lot.