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Henry C. Finney will read from and sign his book of poetry, “Fire Gate Poems,” at 6 p.m. April 19 at Ruby K’s Bagel Café. Tickets, $15, which includes a book, sweets and a drink, are available at Otowi Station Bookstore or at the door for $20.
Trained in sociology and the fine arts, Finney explained how he came to poetry. “It began during college, when the impulse seemed always to arise from a strong surge of emotion or aesthetic feeling about something,” he said.
“Sometimes it was a scene, a person I knew, loved or admired, or a concrete experience. It would prompt an impulse to somehow ‘sing’ the emotion, to express it lyrically. The impulse would arise from the right brain. Logical or rational expression seemed unsuited to the yearning; poetry and art felt much more direct.
“Back then in the 1960s, I began doing both. In retrospect I realize that my writing, research, and teaching in sociology drew much more on the left-brain, leaving the right hemisphere rather starved. Art and poetry redressed the imbalance.”
When asked about the spark that ignites his work, Finney explained that experiences guide him.
“For me poetry began — and even now begins — with an experience. But had I never before heard powerful poetic expressions, it would probably never have occurred to me to voice my own impulses that way.
“Fortunately, I was exposed to the sounds of poetry during high school. As I read more, some poems registered with great impact, helping me realize that verse could be a powerful expressive tool. Some left indelible marks that are never far from awareness, like Blake’s ‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright / In the forests of the night’; T. S. Eliot’s ‘And the fire and the rose are one’; or Shelley’s ‘I am Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ ”
A poem read aloud is special to Finney. “The poetry I love most is akin to music. Indeed, some poems, like those by Rumi, blossom when read along with certain music, as Rumi’s translator, Coleman Barks, has done on several occasions. Alliteration and rhyming are more poignant when heard, as is formal versification,” he said.
“I’ve always suspected that Milton’s Paradise Lost would pack more punch if slowly read aloud, in a manner that I imagine a bard ‘telling,’ chanting and singing the tale of the Iliad. Unlike music, however, poetry relies as much on meanings and associations provoked by concepts as it does on sounds. Perhaps it’s the combination of the two that makes it unique.”
Finney’s training in the fine arts and sociology has influenced his work. “The same love of color and gesture in painting seems also to generate numerous visual images in my poetry, such as ‘cerulean skies,’ ‘shimmering silver,’ and so on.
Sociology is visually less potent, but because it has honed a deep sensitivity to social issues, I occasionally find myself writing poems of social protest.”
He continued, “Down deep, I sometimes think the most powerful influence on my poetry is simply our ability as cognitively and conceptually evolved primates to vocalize — to yelp, sing, groan, cry, talk, argue, laugh, shout, call, scream and mumble.
“Among these, for me, the most important is singing. I suppose this all amounts to what writers and poets sometimes refer to as the great ‘yalp.’ ”
Finney concluded by discussing the art forms that he loves. “In terms of creative process, poetry isn’t the only art form that speaks to me,” he said, “for I find painting equally expressive. In terms of appreciation, I also love to view art, listen to jazz and classical music, watch modern dance, and read some limited genres of fiction, like science fiction.
“Poetry does speak strongly to me because it, like all the other arts in their own distinctive ways, seems uniquely able to combine storytelling, music, chant, fantasy and ecstatic gesture.
“Other poets would surely give you a different list of poetry’s powers and that should warn us that each poet must find his own distinctive reasons and ways to voice the fundamentals of what it’s like to be alive.”