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Ian Hamilton Finlay Biography

(1925–2006), Glasgow Herald; The Sea-Bed and Other Stories, The Dancers Inherit the Party

Scottish poet, graphic artist, and sculptor; born in Nassau in the Bahamas, he grew up in Scotland. During the early 1950s he worked on farms in the Orkneys and began publishing short stories in the Glasgow Herald; The Sea-Bed and Other Stories (1958) contained work notable for its simplicity and symbolic power. The Dancers Inherit the Party (1960), a selection of his ‘sophisticated folk poems’, impressed critics through its formal economy and openness. In 1961 Finlay founded the Wild Hawthorn Press and produced Glasgow Beasts, An a Burd, a series of sometimes bizarre and amusing poems in Glasgow dialect. He has since published a great many books and pamphlets, among them Stonechats (1967), Butterflies (1973), A Mast of Hankies (1975), and The Errata of Ovid (1983). Jonathan Raban noted his work's characteristic ‘circumspect, private wit that resists condensation into fulsome generalizations’. In 1962 he developed an interest in concrete poetry, of which he became a leading exponent. After settling at Stonypath in Dunsyre, Lanarkshire, in 1966, he commenced the landscaping of his celebrated ‘garden temple’, in which poems inscribed on slabs exist in aesthetic interaction with a range of other emblematic art objects, plants, and water. Finlay's productions, which have been widely exhibited, obviate the distinction between poems and graphic or sculptural art works. Both A Wartime Garden (1990; poems and graphics) and The Garden, Little Sparta (1992; prose and poetry) relate to his garden, which has become a cause célèbre through his legal disputes with the local council. Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer (1985) by Yves Abrioux lavishly displays the extraordinary range and diversity of his work.

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