14.2 x 21 cm, 32 pages, green card cover, black endpapers, sewn with green embroidery thread.
ISBN 978 1 903090 60 2
David Wheatley was born in 1970. He is the author of various collections
of poetry and lives in rural Aberdeenshire. The Reed Bunting Unseen arises
from a visit to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden at Little Sparta and
other Scottish locations in 2012.
Cover illustration: R. Healy.
See below for an extract.
Arriving in Britain from the Bahamas in the 1940s, the young Ian Hamilton Finlay was disoriented by the wartime absence for security reasons of road-signs. Making his way to Oxford, where he hoped to stay with Sidney Keyes, he was mistaken for a German parachutist, an episode from which he extricated himself only with some difficulty. Contemporaneously a genuine parachutist, Rudolf Hess, was dropping into Scotland on unspecified business. It has been suggested that Hess hoped to meet Ian Hamilton – not to be confused with the Scot’s near-namesake, let alone the younger English poet of the same name – considered to be the most Germanophile member of Churchill’s cabinet, to hammer out who knows what dastardly alternative Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. If so, his capture meant the trip came to nothing more than a dress rehearsal for Hess’s long post-war years of confinement in Spandau. Later in life, Ian Hamilton Finlay would dream of recreating the garden created in prison by Hess’s brother in arms, Albert Speer. Finlay’s fascination with SS paraphernalia has discomfited many, but while the martial fantasies that fuel his work represent one obvious source, Finlay’s agoraphobia may have played its part too, confining him as it did to his Stonypath home for thirty years. (Speer, meanwhile, dealt with his own confinement by ‘walking’ round the world in the exercise yard at Spandau, using guidebooks and maps to chart his route from country to country, proceeding eastwards through Asia and Siberia before crossing the Bering Strait and ending his ‘journey’ in Mexico.) To one unable to cross the street to insult his enemies, the leap from an angry letter to the Arts Council to Blitzkrieg of the imagination, if one might so characterise Finlay’s flyting campaigns, is short and seductive. A garden is not a retreat, Finlay insisted, it is an attack. Equally, if tirade upon tirade is what one’s audience deserves, why not swing to the other extreme and give them, on one level at least, precisely nothing (concrete poetry is a silent poetry, Finlay insisted, for all that MacDiarmid associated Finlay with the noisy ‘happenings’ of Alexander Trocchi and other ‘cosmopolitan scum’ of the 1960s). Rarely can a silence have been as broodingly aggressive as Finlay’s.
To return to Rudolf Hess: as a student I met an American whose father had been the German’s prison doctor in Spandau. Hess lost a rib in the First World War, he told me, but the man in Spandau was in possession of the full set. Here was a classic urban myth, the stand-in/fall-guy content to serve out long decades in prison while the true Hess luxuriated in Odessa File exile in Paraguay or Brazil. Had he ventured beyond the bounds of Little Sparta, who knows what mischief Ian Hamilton Finlay might have got up to. Instead, he made of himself an ecstatic prisoner of the imagination. But to paraphrase Jean Genet, better to become un captif amoureux than set a thousand prisoners free. Who has been freer than Finlay, between his impotent, house-bound rage, and its accompanying world-conjuring, world-dismissing imaginative fiat? Il faut cultiver son jardin? Il faut cultiver sa prison.
‘In the event of unforeseen parachute release, proceed with extreme caution. Remember your training. Establish and confirm your exact location as far as possible. Remove all identifying insignia from clothing, destroy all incriminating documents, and avoid unnecessary civilian contact. If in a group and challenged by parties unknown, allow your superior or the most confident member of your company (French- or German-speaking) to speak on your behalf. If suspicion is not aroused on first contact and subsequently, do not become over-familiar with locals. Your position will remain at all times precarious. Expression of political opinions is strongly discouraged. If in need of shelter or a hiding place, outbuildings and gardens are especially recommended.’ (Parachute Operations: Training and Preparedness, RAF, 1940)
One letter leadst
o another and
there is a name.
Not to be left
out the place
comes along too.
Garden Feature, Little Sparta
Le stile, c’est l’homme même.
Sun to morning dew: ‘Get off my land.’
A Camouflage Garden
r d b tings
ee un n s