Second Aeon


second aeon 19 to 21

 

 

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Second Aeon magazine 1966 - 1974. Second Aeon Publications 1968 - 1987.

"The most prominent and best established avant-garde poetry magazine of the period"
- Peter Barry, Poetry Wars, Salt, 2006

"Peter Finch's Second Aeon was the best magazine of the Underground"
- Andrew Duncan, Nothing Is being Suppressed - British Poetry of the 1970s, Shearsman, 2022

 

Contents

  A Brief History

  Through The Barricades: An Account by Martin Booth

  Present Day Availability

  Second Aeon Bibliography

 

 

 


A Brief History

 

Peter Finch's journal of contemporary poetry, graphics, fiction and reviews ran from late 1966 to mid 1974. Issue 1 was 6 pages of foolscap (the precursor to A4) with a circulation of a hundred copies. Issue 21 ran to 268 pages in B-format with a circulation of several thousand. It was the British poetry magazine of the time. It featured most UK writers of verse, was leavened with Americans and also featured the non-English speaking world in translation. The magazine had a strong leaning towards the work of the British poetry revival and regularly included concrete and experimental works in its pages. A great strength was The Small Press Scene, a vast and comprehensive round-up of activity among poetry and alternative publishers world-wide. With only scant help from others this was largely written by Finch who read upwards of four hundred books and pamphlets per issue to get it done.

The magazine began at Finch's family home in Queensbury Road, Cardiff but developed and hugely expanded its reach at his Maplewood Court flat in Llandaff North. If the spirit of the magazine still hangs anywhere it is in that ground floor back room. Finch's Hungarian translator, Kinga Kovacs, visiting from Budapest, said that one of the aims of her visit was to get as near to that source as possible. They should put up a plaque, she said. They won't.

Early issues featured local poets and others from the small press world. Issue 4 included Liverpool's Brian Wake, arch-hippie David Stringer, Peter Hoida, Stephen Morris, Chrissie Smith and work from the Flemish of Clem Schouwenaars. By issue 6 the canvas had expended considerably with appearances from, among others, George Dowden, Jim Burns, Bob Cobbing, Raymond Garlick, Geraint Jarman, Penguin Modern Poet Alan Jackson, anti-war sonic chanting from Cavan McCarthy and a Wales Visitation from Allen Ginsberg.

nannucci
the distance between maurizio nannucci (above from issue 18)
and r.s.thomas (issue 15) was
regarded by many as uncrossable.
Not that this ever held second aeon back

Mid-period saw the magazine rise to almost 100 pages an issue. Demand was increasing as the magazine's fame spread. Issue 8/9 featured a cover flap containing concrete poems and new work from, among others, William Wantling, just out of San Quentin and full of hippie joy, Pablo Neruda, Dom Sylvester Houedard making haiku out of Llywarch Hen, Doug Blazek in from San Franscico, Iain Sinclair, a play from Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Alan Silitoe, Jim Burns, Geraint Jarman, Tom Kryss, and an expanding Small Press Scene round up of the poetry scene. Some of the poets included were of world standing yet Second Aeon's pages were still banged out on a typewriter and duplicated on a Gestetner..

Issue 10 ran a plastic bag full of concrete poem postcards as a freebe. Harry Guest appeared from Tokyo, Gene Fowler shouted up from Grand Canyon. Edwin Morgan added his Loch Ness Monster. Elsewhere were poems from Tina Morris, Barry Macsweeney, Thomas A Clark, Peter Porter, Mike Horovitz, Iain Sinclair and Gary Snyder. The Small Press Scene was so large that it appeared in a pull-out supplement.

At more than 100 pages issue 12 was the final duplicated number. Its range of featured poets mirrored the best of the poetry world. Dave Cunliffe, Frances Horovitz, Jeff Nuttall, Tom Raworth, Dannie Abse, Peter Redgrove, Chris Torrance, John Tripp, Henri Chopin, Charles Verey. Paul Brown had a short story woven into an actual map. George Dowden reported from meditation-filled India. D.r.Wagner wrote in from Sacramento.

Issue 13 saw a switch to full typesetting and an offset print job. Its spine was stapled and the Small Press Scene vaster than ever. The experimental section had grown. Jiri Valoch presented textfragments, Edwin Morgan showed newspaper poems, Philip Jenkins restuctured Mark Rothko, dsh, Alison Bielski and contributed. Elsewhere was an expanded and pretty roaring poetry world including Opal Nations, Charles Bukowski, Harri Webb, Adrian Henri, Robert Bly, Emyr Humphreys, George Macbeth, Penelope Shuttle, Pradip Choudhuri, Bill Wantling telling us that it wasn't an easy time to be alive and Edwin Morgan, making his poems from newspapers, assuring us that it was.

jirivaloch
akutol - poetry - spray by jiri valoch
from second aeon #13

Issues 14 to the final 21 got progressively fatter, had bright coloured covers bearing commissioned art work from the likes of Tom Phillips and Jochen Gerz, and a wild full front-on rush of contemporary verse. The issues ran controversial critical pieces, Meredith Monk in Liverpool, John Furnival in America, Jonathan Griffin's recasting of Mallarme, introductions to Japanese visual verse, Yugoslav concrete, Clayton Eshleman's Metro Vavin poetry scam and a substantial analysis from Eric Mottram of the work of Bob Cobbing. Poets included Jiri Valoch, Carol Berge, Cid Corman, Charles Plymell, DM Thomas, Edward Lucie Smith, John Idris Jones, Roy Fuller, Jack Hirschman and a host of others. If you were out there writing in these years then your poetry needed to appear in this magazine. Most poets who could see where the world was headed sent in their work. The sacks of hopeful contributions arriving by post at Maplewood Court were huge.

Poets would ring up at night to recite their verse down the line at the sleep addled Finch. They would lay in wait outside and pounce waiving their mss when the editor came home from work. Drinks were bought when the editor was spotted leaning at the bar of the local pub, The Pineapple. Bribes were offered and never taken. Once when a poem was rejected (as most were) the failed versifier sent a pair of old shoes and a rotting trout by return.

Editorial policy was to read the mailbox and to include things if they struck home but mainly to scour the poetry world at large and ask the significant for contributions. The jostling avant-gardes of the flower power era bled into the minimalist and procedural poetries of the seventies.

For most of its run Finch edited and produced the magazine single-handedly. Financial help came from Welsh Arts Council grant aid and personal sponsorship from the poet and industrialist the late Cyril Hodges. Cyril would make his donations unannounced by leaving wodges of cash in envelops on the doormat. Finch knew what it was for. For a few of its later issues the poet John Tripp helped compile magazine small press round-ups. The magazine fattened. Its subscriber list grew ever longer. The Post Office who disliked having their pillar boxes filled to overflowing with subscribers' copies offered to stick the stamps on.

From the magazine spun Second Aeon Publications. These were a series of small booklets, broadsheets and later decently sized bound volumes which eventually reached more than 80 in number. They included work by John Tripp, Peter Redgrove, William Wantling, Geraint Jarman, Kent Taylor and a highly successful anthology of Typewriter Poems edited by Finch. The series sold off the back of the magazine, often attracting their own discrete grant aid.

Production for the magazine itself was initially on a Gestetner duplicator and as we've seen moving by issue #13 to offset-litho. Print was by Brown's of Bolton, shipped to Cardiff by articulated lorry and (once) left outside in stacked brown-paper packets in the drenching South Wales rain. A boxed full-print run of a late number Second Aeon took up some space and weighed a lot more than most imagined. Finch needed a day off following the galloping rush he found himself engaged in shifting the crates from drenched drive to dry hallway. The early booklets were home assembled, collated, long-arm stapled, trimmed. Later titles were produced professionally by local jobbing printers. Setting in these pre computer days was either home done on electric vari-typer with added Letraset or paid-for via a bureau.

Contributions, subscriptions, poetry, prose and books and magazines for review came from all over the world. In storage they filled at least a double garage, sliding into each other like trawlered fish. Along with the rest of Second Aeon's papers many now reside at the Fales Library, New York (see details further on).

When the magazine began Finch was working in local government; it ceased when he moved to a new post running the Welsh Arts Council's new Charles Street bookshop,Oriel. Giving up the grant aid was one of the conditions of the post. The magazine went out while it was still very much on top.

The history of the period was one of internecine warfare between the traditional elements in British poetry and those who wished a more catholic, world-view to take hold. The poets of the British poetry revival, the creators of innovative verse and the concrete and visual poets faced down those who held the publishing levers of power. Things did not stay still for long. Poetry was moving out of the confining English trenches and into the larger world. Second Aeon, with its highly catholic view of literature, was there at just the right time.

Bob Cobbing Mary Rudolf's Chromosomes
Bob Cobbing - Mary Rudolf's Chromosomes
from second aeon issue #15

No one in the UK in the late sixties and the early seventies was much interested in poetry as a whole art. Nor were there many formal opportunities to read it outside the Penguin-Faber-OUP-Cape drawn lines. The small presses, still a vital part of literary adventure, were then of even greater significance. If you wanted concrete poetry, chance operations, non-referential, open field, post-beat, visual, found, collage, or any other new approach then little magazines were your only hope. America, despite Carlos Williams and despite Ezra Pound was still seen as hugely distant. Europe was a continent you needed a telescope to see. Asia and Africa were lost in translation.. The Celtic nations were beyond the pale. To get ahead you needed to be male, centralist and with the exception of a few adventurous Japanese, very English. Second Aeon wanted as little part of that as possible.

At one level the magazine provided a literary link between the poets of Wales and the rest of the world. Second Aeon was initially an outlet for local Cardiff writers (through Finch's involvement with No Walls, the local poetry workshop) and later for the whole of Wales (through Finch's work on reading tours, national literary events and the organisation Poet's Conference of which Finch was the National representative). On a larger scale Second Aeon represented the UK to the world and the world to the UK. Finch was a council member of the London Poetry Society and of The Association of Little Presses at this time. He worked to draw the disparate strands of poetry into a common thread. Second Aeon was supported by many. It had no central office and no staff. Copies lined most rooms in Finch's house. This was a literary phenomena. The UK national press totally ignored it.

"Finch won because his sense of where he was was years ahead of anyone else; most British editors are in love with the past" - Andrew Duncan, Nothing Is being Suppressed - British Poetry of the 1970s, Shearsman, 2022.

"Finch also edited second aeon which was the only Welsh magazine of its time to swim with the international avant-garde, not only for what it printed but for Finch's considered, small-print reviews of publications both straight and wayward"-
Richard Kostelanetz, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, Chicago Review Press, 1993

How the South Wales Echo reported Second Aeon in 1968 is here. How the paper reported the No Walls readings is here.

At London's Poetry Library you can now read an online version of the great 19-21 final issue of second aeon with other issues to follow. Babylon Wales - Notes From The Margins Of Welsh Culture features the place where it all began - Maplewood Court

A comprehensive study by Malcolm Ballin (Cardiff University) Welsh Periodicals in English: Second Aeon and Poetry Wales (1965-1985) appears in Welsh Writing In English - A Yearbook of Critical Essays edited by Tony Brown (CREW - distributed by University of Wales Press), 2007. This essay which discusses at length the magazine's relationship with its funders and its relationship with Wales.

(This essay revised June, 2022.)

second aeon archive copies

The Second Aeon Archive 1967 - 1974 is part of The Fales Library & Special Collections held in New York (Fales Library and Special Collections Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012). The Library notes: "The Second Aeon Archive is comprised of all the correspondence and manuscript material that created Second Aeon's issues, such as: magazine layouts, page proofs, letters to the editor, illustration layouts, and original manuscripts. Noted correspondents include Paul Auster, Carol Berg, Robert Bly, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, John Cage, Cyril Hodges, Alison Knowles, Jim Morrison, Jeff Nuttall, and Peter Redgrove. Also included in this collection are manuscripts used by Second Aeon's small press to publish various poetry books and anthologies. The Second Aeon Archive was acquired via purchase from Richard Aaron of Am Here Books, in 1974. The Second Aeon Archive is part of the Avant Garde Collection, collected at Fales Library during the 1960's and 70's by Mel Edelstein and Theodore Grieder." Search for: The Fales Library Special Collections - Guide to the Second Aeon Archive 1967-1974 MSS.023 Dick McBride bought the original papers following a visit to Maplewood Court in the 1970s. Finch spent the money realised on his first second-hand car. Later papers are either at the National Library of Wales or remain in the editor's personal collection.




second aeon no 15 cover

 

 

 

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Through The Barricades

A good description of the magazine appears in Martin Booth's British Poetry 1964-84 - Driving Through The Barricades (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985). An extract is reproduced here:


There was one magazine that did the lot, publishing Edwin Morgan's visual work and sound poetry beside Peter Porter's densely academic work, Wes Magee with Clayton Eshleman, Philip Ward with George MacBeth, Peter Redgrove, Frances (wife of Mike) Horovitz, and adding, in translation, Dutch, German, French, Eastern European and Scandinavian poetry. Pictures, visuals, abstract doodles, traditional poems, way-out rubbish and way-in rubbish, superb verse, experimental verse, prose poems, straight prose all appeared in it, in issues that could be 250 pages thick, in paperback book format, It was called Second Aeon.

The most important magazine of the period, Second Aeon was founded and edited by peter Finch and its publication, late 1966 to early 1974, coincides with the main poetic years of growth, excitement and state of well-being. Finch did what no one else either could or would. He saw the weaknesses of a system and exploited them to overcome them and try to give some balance and direction to what was a very loose state of affairs, riddled with sub-groups, groups, bands of friends and enemies.

Much of what follows is drawn from Finch's own account of the years of Second Aeon. Characteristically frank and forthright, Finch set about his redress of poetry's ills.

The magazine ran for twenty-one issues with the first being a foolscap-sized mimeographed slim thing of six pages and 100 copies. This gradually expanded to the last issue which was a 268-page, perfectly bound offset-litho production. Finance for this venture came initially from Finch's own pocket, justifiably so when one considers his editorial 'policy' at the start, but later on the Welsh Arts Council put up 45 per cent of the cost with another 45 per cent coming from the private funds of the Welsh poet Cyril Hodges who, over the years, had been quietly supporting the Welsh arts. The remaining 10 per cent came from Finch's pocket, advertising and subscriptions. The magazine never made a profit that would anything like clear the grants and private subsidisation. Sales were (Finch says)) an impossible task for a one-man business. Copies were distributed by subscriptions, free copies, bookshops and a network of poetry world people who sold copies on commission both in Britain and the USA from where Second Aeon drew about a quarter of its material, bringing British readers, often for the first time, the poetry of North America, where the art was flourishing (and has continued so to do) to an even greater extent than in the old country. Interestingly, part of Finch's concept of the all-round publication came from the example of Dustbooks, in the USA, which carried out a similar function of drawing information and work into a central set of pages. Alongside second Aeon went a booklet production process that brought out over 100 slim titles including some that were of great literary merit and importance - Nicki Jackowska's first work, Peter Redgrove's Love's Journeys and an anthology called Typewriter Poems, the first easily obtained collection of visual poems made from typewriter work rather than art work.

Editorial policy is best outlined by Finch:

"Second Aeon began by having no policy, only an idea to publish myself, and then myself and my friends and then to mix local and other poets. With maturity forced onto the magazine by its age, size and circulation the policy, unstated, changed to become the presentation of a bird's-eye view of poetry, in English and in translation, in the UK (and America) during the late sixties and early seventies. It was an open magazine, a mix of experiment and tradition, a redressing of the balance and a hard lean at the avant garde. I also felt it vital to fill the information gap to review and mention all that went on in the small press scene. I carried few reviews and hardly any critical articles but did, towards Second Aeon's end, move into fiction. The magazine was started, as I've said, in order to publish myself. But by the end it had nothing to do with my own work. The balance of values in the poetry world was wrong much vital and important work was being ignored because it was regarded as too radical, too different, too difficult or was just simply misunderstood. What was needed was a common platform for all that was going on. I tried to provide that."

And, certainly, Finch did. Large chunks of the back pages of Second Aeon became listings, in tiny print, of everything he could get his hands on with a brief comment on it. Small press work, magazines, posters, hand-outs, everything went into these lists which became the main (if not only) source of information that bound all aspects of the poetry scene together. At last, there was a man trying to cut across the petty barriers of cliques to show what everyone was doing and, looking back from the 1980s to those issues, one sees an astonishing array and diversity of art. There has never been the like since and nor is there likely to be.

Inevitably, bar the Welsh Arts Council's support - they are noted for spending more on the literary arts than the other national arts councils - albeit backed by a 'perpetual misunderstanding of what I was trying to do', the establishment roundly ignored Second Aeon. No national newspaper, not even, for example, The Times Literary Supplement which actually wrote about Poetry Review in an editorial at a time when it was in a state of flux and under a caretaker set of editors who produced a slightly less moribund issue than usual, gave second Aeon a single line. It was roundly ignored, despite the fact that practically every major poet appeared in it. Perhaps it was, as Finch suggests, that his magazine employed change and the set literary world was not prepared to consider it. In addition, the magazine hit at the self-centeredness of the British scene as a whole and that was - and still is - resented.

The magazine ceased partly because, as I have mentioned, Finch took a job with the Welsh Arts Council and that precluded him from accepting money from them: on top of that, Cyril Hodges died and it was not until after this that his patronage became known. He had insisted upon it being anonymous. It must, I feel, be right now to acknowledge what this man did. Through his agent Finch, Cyril Hodges did more for British poetry (and, to some extent, poetry at large) than any other. He financed its main magazine, he gave it moral support, he backed it in every way possible. He gave the new poets credibility and the old a place in the development. Luckily for everyone, he backed the right horse, too. Finch was not a partisan but a cause worker and he did everyone proud.

The most expensive Second Aeon cost 60p. Mostly, it cost 25p though it took 1 to produce. It could have survived, selling, even then, at 1. It stopped, though, and it is right to say that the decline and rot set into British verse soon after. It is justified to feel that the demise of Finch's astounding enterprises led to the showdown of the art. A central cog had seized in the engine.

 

 

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Availability

 

Back issues of the magazine are naturally all gone. The second hand and antiquarian market (try Abe Books) offers a certain turnover; prices have not yet risen to impossible levels. Check the bindings on the later issues. Sixties glue cracks with time, open your copy fast and all the pages will fall out. (rebind using Copydex, quick, neat and effective). Complete files of the magazine and most of its attendant publications exist at the UK Copyright libraries, and at University College London Little Magazine Collection. In the States sets of the magazine were purchased by both Buffalo and California. Many private collectors hold complete series.

 

 

Tony Rickaby
Tony Rickaby - The Rock and Roll Sculptor
from second aeon's final issue

 


Peter Finch


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