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This review is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

THE IDIOM OF THE UNIVERSE Ian Hamilton Finlay, A Celebration of the Grove (Parrett Press; available from Waters Fine Art, Applecot, Broadhenston, Totnes, Devon)
Ian Hamilton Finlay, Talismans and Signifiers (Graham Murray Gallery, 15 Scotland Street, Edinburgh 3) £6.50 pb.
Ian Hamilton Finlay, Interpolations in Hegel (Wild Hawthorn Press, Stonypath, Dunsyre, Lanark) £5.00 pb.

The bewildering variety of forms in which the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay has appeared has led reviewers into a small crisis of classification: is he 'the father of concrete poetry', a gardener, a sculptor or (the current solution) simply an 'artist', taking that word as a hold-all for any odd or unpredictable behaviour? The problem seems an acute one in the case of a man who has a keen sense of where genres overlap and who insists on words, whether written or chiselled, meeting each other with a clean edge.

Certainly there was a stage in Finlay's development when there was some excuse for thinking of him as a writer who had abandoned words, or at least sentences and paragraphs. With recent publications and in particular the three books under review, this opinion is no longer tenable. Not only do the books reaffirm Finlay's status as a writer, they set out at some length the concerns and assumptions with which his more laconic works deal in an oblique or succinct fashion. They reveal Finlay as a writer concerned with problems of form, of change and intelligibility, of didacticism and dialectic, of light and shadow, oak and rock.

The seriousness of purpose that these publications display (not unspiced with levity, however) will not console those who persist in thinking of Finlay's work as whimsical and narrow in its range. The books take three forms: a proposal for several sculptures in an Italian olive grove; an ...


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