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This review is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

POEMS FROM AN EXHIBITION Arts Council of Great Britain: Ian Hamilton Finlay Exhibition

'Deceptively spacious' in the current jargon of estate-agents means that the property so described is much larger inside than is apparent from the exterior: 'internal inspection' is usually recommended as 'essential'. The poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay on view in London's Serpentine Gallery during September and October last year was 'deceptively spacious' all right, but also deceptively new and deceptively traditional. Each of the gallery's five rooms issued a different kind of challenge to most of one's preformed attitudes about the objectives and objects of poetry and-for those who knew Finlay's work a decade or so ago when 'concrete poetry' was having its brief succès de scandale in this country-to most of one's expectations about the likely and proper development of Finlay as artist.

Visitors to the exhibition entered directly a 'Neo-classical' room where small objects of stone, marble, slate or fibreglass were on display. This room had some of the intended feel of a formal neo-classical interior, with its sculpted and inscribed meanings gradually working through to the suitably contemplative mind. Here Finlay had revived the apparently outmoded and defunct traditions of the emblem (image with text) and the motto to explore their new expressive possibilities for our age. In this recent work, therefore, Renaissance-style mementoes of epic struggle and death have been transposed to our century, so that safely ossified Latin tags recrudesce to become disturbingly associated with the armoured vehicles, warships and fighting planes of the First and Second World Wars. Conversely, the common ...


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