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This review is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

MODEST RADIANCE IAN HAMILTON FINLAY, A Model of Order: Selected Letters on Poetry and Making, edited by Thomas A. Clark (WAX 366) £9.99

Thomas A. Clark has brought the lightest of editorial touches to bear on this modest but radiant selection of letters from what is surely a considerable correspondence (IHF was a wonderful letter-writer, as anyone who has read his 1963 letter to the spatialist poet Pierre Garnier - long available on UbuWeb - must know). Indeed, Clark gives us only a brief paragraph by way of Introduction before we are straight into the first (undated) letter, and the 56-page book is entirely free of footnotes, references or additional context of any kind. Also, to judge by the ubiquity of the ellipse, almost all of the selections presented are in fact excerpted from longer communications; again, no details are given, save that the letters themselves are to be found in public collections, or have previously enjoyed magazine publication.

Any initial impression of cursory or slapdash editorial treatment is, however, quickly dispelled as we realise that Clark intends us to focus solely on the matter at hand: Finlay’s evolving ideas about poiesis (making and form) as set out in his correspondence, and their possible implications for poetry - of whatever kind. The first (ca. 1960?) letter, to George Mackay Brown, finds Finlay already an agoraphobic, but not yet a concrete poet. One of the pleasures of A Model of Order’s chronological arrangement is that we get to chart the progression of Finlay’s thinking as he becomes a concrete poet, having first been a writer of stories and then of plays ...

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