Thursday, 30 July 2009
Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.* Idea and Soil
Lilian Lijn, Sky Never Stops, 1965
It's good, it's interesting, yet it's no good, it's dull. The story of concrete poetry in the current ICA show is essentially a 60s-70s story in which the main figures are Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Silvester Houédard, Henry Chopin, Lilian Lijn (see above) plus miscellanea from Alisdair Gray, Carl André, Robert Smithson, but for those last three it is a minor side-line. Others too, some to be mentioned.
These are just first thoughts not an essay, and brief thoughts at that. The chief argument for concrete poetry, as someone in the catalogue says, I think it's Finlay, is simply that it is 'beautiful'. Well, Finlay often is beautiful and, generally, the more simple the more beautiful. Of the others Dom Silvester seems to me a decent old buffer making patterns with a typewriter and adding mystical references. Vito Acconci is sprightly with lists of marginalia in telephone books (I like marginalia in any form and want to write more myself). Both André and Smithson induce a certain tedium in me as do Henri Chopin and Lilian Lijn. I know it's ideas, and I know it is play, but it seems dull play to me. Vieux jeux. Francis Stark plays a buffoonish straight face.
Ideas are good, but ideas without soil go dry and grow arid. Finlay - who is head and shoulders above anyone here - has his feet on a kind of solid ground. He loves things. He loves boats. He loves the names of boats. He loves revolutions. He loves stone. He loves gardens. The man loves life and there is clean air in him.
I think I know what bores me in much of this exhibition! It is - strange to say - verbose. Words as things are OK but they are disposable without things beyond them. The theory is verbose, the product is verbose. Which may be a good point at which to stop pounding this keyboard.
In the meantime four cheers for Ian Hamilton Finlay. Let him have the last stone (not from the exhibition).
Ian Hamilton Finlay: Little Sparta, The Shady Grove
*Poor.Old.Tired. Horse. Periodical founded by Ian Hamilton Finlay.