Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Festival Poetry: Alec Finlay reads Ian Hamilton Finlay

Image: Alec Finlay, Edinburgh Art Festival Pavillion in St Andrews Square Gardens

The SPL’s ongoing quest to find poetry readings off the beaten track continued yesterday with an event held at the Edinburgh Art Festival Pavillion in St Andrews Square Gardens. Not even the rain could stop us from bustling over to hear Alec Finlay read his father’s poems, a celebration of the Ian Hamilton Finlay exhibition Twilight Remembers at Ingleby Gallery. Damp, perhaps a little mud-flecked, we crammed into what felt a little like a gang-hut.

‘For those who have never been to a poetry reading before,’ Finlay said near the start, ‘there’s more talking than poetry at them.’ He was referring to the fact he appeared to be spending more time contextualising his father’s work than reading it. But when you have a poet (and artist and playwright) as fascinating as Ian Hamilton Finlay, any information is gratefully received.

In addition to hearing some great poetry, we got an insight into Finlay pere’s difficult yet mutually-admiring relationship with Hugh MacDiarmid, his agrophobia, some of the philosophy behind his garden-artwork-wonderland Little Sparta, and his reluctance to read in public. So reluctant was Finlay pere, he got the teenage Paul Jones, later of Manfred Man, to read his poetry at public events. You may be interested to know, the SPL has one of the few recordings of IHF reading his own work.

One got to the end of the short event, sodden but fulfilled, or as Finlay fils put it, reading one last poem by his father called ‘The End’:

They returned home tired
but happy.

The End.

Category: