Finch’s First Book


What was a book? Text printed, poems collected. Bound. UNESCO had a definition – “a non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages exclusive of the cover.” Less than 49 but more than 5 turned the vehicle into a pamphlet. Bound somehow, saddle-stapled at very least. The organisation had come up with these definitions in order to accurately interrogate its world-wide book production statistics. More used to precis, simplicity, and tightness poets called anything that gathered words and enabled them to be make their way in the world books. We were going to publish one.

The idea  had come from Steve Morris. Half each. You print the pages and I’ll do the covers, he’d suggested. We’ll bind up our own copies and then hit the local market. Steve was a poet and lecturer at the Faculty of Art at Wolverhampton University. He was big on trade unions and what they could do for the world. He was a good poet had  new ideas spinning around him all the time.

It was his suggestion that we create a cover showing a head and shoulders shot of each of us in the style of a Wild West Wanted Poster. In the finished article steve is gazing out from behind his bohemian beard. He wears a knotted silk scarf in the prevailing fashion of the time. Seeing his I subsequently bought one of my own and can be seen wearing it in any extant shots of me in literary circumstances taken over the next few years.

For my part I appear panic stricken staring out to the left from below a Beatle cut that makes me look like I’m wearing a crash helmet. My Zapata moustache looks hand drawn.   We selected our own poems. One of mine ran “I have spent this past year / drawing up eternal plans” and in a way I had. This was early 1968. My literary magazine second aeon had attracted Welsh Arts Council support and was selling on a broad front. A booklet of poems with my name on the cover was the obvious thing to do. My best. Although looked back at from today through that tube that connects us with what we once were pretty weak. In terms of ideas anorexic. In terms of content plagiaristic. In terms of form irredeemably derivative and unconscionably feeble. But full of enthusiasm nonetheless.

What I didn’t know at this time was that a whole artform had found itself created out of those qualities – derivative, plagiaristic, cut-up, fluxed, chance identified, borrowed, stolen, restructured, filigreed, fleeced, formulated, manipulated, manufactured, mixed, middled, moulded, remaindered and rock and rolled. Eventually I’d find this future way across the void and fly with it. Big. Persuasive. But not yet.

Wanted  trembled when I thought about it. All me. Half me actually. But in my pages all my own. Steve invited me up to a launch reading to celebrate our achievement and to further our collective art. There was a meeting of the Wolverhampton Trade Unions at which culture, a high flyer in the new bomb-protesting socialist future, held a significant position. We’ll get a decent audience, he told me. I’d never read anything out in public before. The idea of doing so frightened me to death.

Publicity was flowing. Copies of the booklet had been sent all over the place. On its culture pages The Journal, the Wolverhampton Trade Union Council’s newspaper covered the booklet in depth. Written by Steve under a nom de plume, as it turned out. The South Wales’ Echo’s Stroller (aka Herbert Williams) said some nice things. The underground represented by  Gandalf’s Garden, Hapt and International Times  had   promised coverage although  in the event somehow failed to get round to it.

I rang Steve up. How am I going to cope, I asked. Stare at a spot at the back of the hall, just above the heads of the audience and keep looking there. Deliver slowly and firmly. If you feel you are likely to be shaking with nerves try to stand behind something – a chair or a table – and if it gets really bad then lean yourself slightly against it. Then blow. Just like Dylan. Go.

Yes, that was it. But which one did he mean? I put my Caedmon album of the Laugharne master’s works onto the player and listened for a bit. That anglicised artificial county voice formed and reformed the words of his verse around me. Did people ever really speak like this? Was this how you were supposed to sound up there on the poetry reading platform? Hell. I put on Like a Rolling Stone. I’d try to sound like that instead. 

In this era, the late 60s, poetry had yet to take off as an acceptable mass medium. Readings had hitherto been about as popular as string quartets among the working classes. I’d sneaked into the back of an Anglo-Welsh celebration centred around Keidrych Rhys in the Park Hotel, Cardiff, on one occasion and been depressed to count the number of double-breasted suits on the men and Celtic tartan knitted capes draping the women. Nobody young. Nobody like me. The words emanating from the lectern were like great monolithic stones –  dense to the point of inaudibility and incomprehensibly old. 

But Steve and I had heard Adrian Henri and the Liverpool Scene – or if we hadn’t we were about to – and had caught the zeitgeist. Our heads were full of poetry and jazz, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Roger McGough, the electrifying Adrian Mitchell, the cantankerous Kenneth Rexroth, the coolest poet on the planet Brian Patten. Our reading rocked. Afterwards we sold a great stack of copies. A shilling a go.


Extract from The Literature Business, a work in progress by Peter Finch



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