In 1966, the year of Alec’s birth, his father sent home-made Christmas cards to his friends and correspondents, among them fellow poet Edwin Morgan, in Glasgow. Typical of the elder Finlay, these were not Christmas cards in the conventional sense; less season’s greetings as gifts, they were lovingly conceived, meticulously composed, published by the poet’s own Wild Hawthorn Press and delivered [...]. They were called ‘poem-cards’, and that year they featured the following poem:
The poem came appended with a series of questions, the second of which reads:
“Roam” is a verb we associate with Arcady. Can one roam among the letters of the alphabet? Might it be that the letters are compared to the fields and forests, mosses and springs of an ancient pastoral landscape? If so, why?
I got intrigued by the look of individual words. The word “guarantee,” for instance, looks to me a bit like a South American insect.
The script [hieroglyphs] itself probably has a much longer history than people suspect because it seems to inspire the so-called proto-Sinaitic script, first identified in the Egyptian mines in the Sinai Peninsula. This probably fed into the Semitic scripts, into Phoenician, and eventually through the Greek alphabet into our own alphabet. Alan Gardner, the famous British Egyptologist, said the ghost of the hieroglyphs still lives on in our current alphabet.
Poetic labour for Mallarmé is a labour of simplification. Like engineers, he dreams of an alphabet of essential forms, taken from the ordinary forms of nature and the social world. These reminiscences, these creations of abridged forms answer to the need to construct an abode where man is at home.
The ancient Sumerian inscribing clay tablets with wedge-shaped marks was adopting the same technical attitude toward his materials as the contemporary writer seated at a computer terminal: both are shaping a writing space by filling it with visual signs.