Peter Finch, noted performance poet, boundary pusher and psychogeographer based in Wales, brings us The Machineries of Joy, his 26th poetry collection, chock-full of acute observation, pointed asides, startled reactions, formal dislocations and structural inventions.
First, Finch gives us the poem as road movie, taking us over the Severn bridge and onwards to the western fringes of Wales and then over the oceans to America. Europe shimmers. It is a different place in Finch’s hands. There are encounters with giants – Don van Vliet, Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Cobbing, Thomas (Bob, RS, Dylan), Gustav Mahler, Andrew Loog Oldham surfing Phil Spector and Ali Farka Toure lit by John Lee Hooker.
America is represented by plausible outliers such those found at the Democrat’s booth at the South Carolina State Fair: an over-heard exchange: ‘You a Republican, I ask? Sure and even if I wasn’t, I would be. Place names: Canton, Ohio, Bethesda, Alaska, and the names of evangelical churches on highways in the southern USA mirror those of Welsh chapels while hinting at the troubled state of the nation: Church of the back-sliders/ the wrecked and forlorn; Church of the Pouring River; Ebeneser on Kingston Pike.
Reflecting the author’s love of music there are trips to blues shrines as in ‘Clarksdale’ near the fabled cross-roads where Robert Leroy Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the devil for a batch of blues classics. There are pieces inspired by feuds between long-dead modernist poets, a prescient reminder of how any movement can fracture into factions. Likewise famous poets appear in places you least expect them to, such as ‘John Ashbery Visits Lidl’. A Dylan Thomas poem is demolished and re-fashioned in ‘Alter’. In the title poem, J.S. Bach confronts a disgruntled and indifferent public as he tries to flog his sonatas in a supermarket.
Finch’s poems about his native Cardiff are inspired by his careful re-mapping of intimate territory, informed by his habits as a relentlessly curious walker. In ‘Death Junction’ ‘City Regions’ and ‘Psychic Triangle’: ‘Where the lines of Cardiff’s waters cross and the leys and roads intermingle-the past and present of the city’ the poet creates densely woven verbal tapestries that evoke the peculiar tone, pace and feel of the city, past and present. There are also smaller moments of domestic angst and fervor: doctor’s visits; encounters with ‘Crap Builders’; a poem about divorce that is an adept anti-epithalamion.
Later in the book, a larger intention appears, long poems of epic length and maximum experimentation, such as ‘hammer lieder helicopter speak’ and ‘Crow’. These poems start out ostensibly about coherent subject matter and then artfully disintegrate. They are sometimes, as in the Welsh Assembly poems, slyly aimed at the inherent flaws of institutionalism, but they are also supremely playful and are dazzling performance pieces, fizzing with dislocated music.
In The Machineries of Joy, the reader will find a poet of wide experience, who uses it as grist to a furious mill where language is never allowed to sit still but is cut-up, re-shuffled, interrogated, parodied, collaged, part of an ongoing project to reject cliché and to reflect contemporary life in all its complexities.