Little Sparta


Finlay was born in Nassau, Bahamas of Scottish parents. He was educated in Scotland. At the age of 13, with the outbreak of World War II, he was evacuated to the Orkney Islands. In 1942 he joined the British Army.

At the end of the war, Finlay worked as a shepherd, before beginning to write short stories and poems. He published books including The Sea Bed and Other Stories (1958) and The Dancers Inherit the Party (1960) (which was included in its entirety in a New Directions annual a few years later), and some of his work was broadcast by the BBC.

In 1963, Finlay published Rapel, his first collection of concrete poetry (poetry in which the layout and typography of the words contributes to its overall effect), and it was as a concrete poet that he first gained wide renown. Much of this work was issued through his own Wild Hawthorn Press. Eventually he began to inscribe his poems into stone, incorporating these sculptures into the natural environment.

This kind of environmental poetry features in his garden Little Sparta in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, where he lived. The five-acre garden also includes more conventional sculptures and temple-like buildings as well as plants.

In December 2004 in a poll conducted by Scotland on Sunday, a panel of fifty artists, gallery directors and arts professionals voted Little Sparta to be the most important work of Scottish art.[2] Second and third were the Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Skating Minister. Sir Roy Strong has said of Little Sparta that it is "the only really original garden made in this country since 1945"

Art work facts:

Little Sparta can be described as a neoclassical sculpture garden. Every surface, from benches to headstones and obelisks, is inscribed with his words. Finlay, a committed poet and student of classical philosophy, has also always recognised the power of language and art to shape our perceptions of the world and even to incite us to action. Fused in his work is thus a certain formalist purity and an insistent polemical edge, "the terse economy of concrete poetry and the elegant simplicity of the classical inscription." Formalist devices are themselves shown to be never without meaning, and they are ingeniously deployed by Finlay to arm his works with an ever more evocative content.

The movement of words and language into the world has been most fully realised by Finlay in his now famous garden, Little Sparta.
At every turn along Little Sparta's paths or in its glades, language - here plaintively, there aggressively - ambushes the visitor. Plaques, benches, headstones, obelisks, planters, bridges and tree-column bases all carry words or other signage; and this language functions metaphorically to conjure up an ideal and radical space, a space of the mind beyond sight or touch. To re-invoke Nature and its real raw power - and to re-establish poetry's and art's relevance in the world - Little Sparta has been made rife with images not only of invincible Antique gods but also of deadly modern warships, our nearest symbols of sublimity and terror.The garden historian John Dixon Hunt has written that "the ideal gardener is a poet." Finlay, in an astonishingly explicit way, is this ideal gardener, having made of his Little Sparta a sustained as well as highly sensuous poem.

Personal response:

Little Sparta is a deliberate correction of the modern sculpture garden through its maker's revisiting the Neoclassical tradition of the garden as a place provocative of poetic, philosophic and even political thought
I have not heard about concrete poetry before and I found the idea of bringing words (either existing or new ) into the world by inscribing them on the concrete surface and building relation to the objects upon which it is inscribed and the landscape within which it is sited.

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