March 1 Birthdays – Lucien Carr & Basil Bunting

Basil Bunting

Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

Lucien Carr (1925-2005)

Two strangely contrasting birthdays, celebrated today (strangely contrasting? – or maybe not). We’ll draw your attention to fairly comprehensive initial postings on each of our two subjects of study – Basil Bunting here
Lucien Carr here

First, the latter. Due to the success of Kill Your Darlings, (out in America on DVD later this month), from a quiet unassuming back-seat, Lucien, (at least in the Dane DeHaan version), has been catapaulted to, clearly unwanted and unsought for, global notoriety, slandered (the movies can do this, even if it is just “fiction”), fixed forever as the hyper-, young, “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, beautiful-boy – the spotlight forever on the fatal encounter with David Kammerer
That the real picture is so much more than that needs hardly to be stated. Bob Rosenthal has previously addressed such matters on this site – To quote Bob: “Those of us who knew Lucien knew that he only wanted anonymity and spent his life quietly loving his family and drinking. His silence was a remorse for a youthful blunder, not a conspiracy to hide the truth. Allen loved Lucien without reservation and protected (him) from close scrutiny out of that strong love. I think this ugly portrayal of Lucien [as he is depicted, by DeHaan in the film] will be hurtful to those who call him Pops and Granddad”.

“Pops and Grandad” – he lived for a “full four-score years”, blundering no further (at least not so spectacularly, or with such fatal consequence), and, as a wire-service reporter (old-time newspaper man), established a laudable reputation. Veteran reporter, Helen Thomas, who worked with Carr at UPI for many years, has been quoted as saying, “I think he was one of the greatest editors UPI has ever known. He was unflappable, he was a terrific writer, and he had an uncanny sense of being able to catch any error before it hit the wire.” Former UPI Managing Editor, Ron Cohn called Carr, “the absolute best newsman I ever knew. He was very special to all of us. I don’t know of anyone in the twenty-five years I’ve worked with the company who was as universally beloved, admired, and respected.”
(A dissenting voice on this account may be heard from Lucien’s son, Caleb, in this recently-published provocative screed – “that my father was considered a hero at UPI was more than outweighed by the fact that he was considered a terrifying monster at home”, he writes – Allen is bizarrely depicted here as a “fringe militant” homosexual activist with a vindictive ego-bound “agenda” (no love lost here!). We’d direct you (and him) to Trungpa Rinpoche’s remarks (featured yesterday in this space) on aggression and anger)

Lucien Carr at UPI – Photograph c. The Estate of Allen Ginsberg

Basil Bunting beside the River Rawley, Cumbria, 1980 – Photograph c.Jonathan Williams

Basil Bunting was both revered and forgotten/occulted (and occasionally slandered) too. Not, of course, by Allen, an early admirer, or by the cognescenti, who recognized (especially after the publication of his epic masterpiece, Briggflats, that this was the great British poet of the twentieth-century – not (perish the thought) Auden, or (the American) Eliot  and who recognized (and recognize) in his marginalization, further verification of (an admittedly obdurate and uncompromising) authenticity. It is thus mildly ironic, and deeply terrific, that Don Share‘s long-delayed and clearly-definitive edition of the Collected Poems (right now, we have to make do with the New Directions volume) is scheduled for publication by the (Eliot-associated) London-based Faber house, for early next year.

Prior to that we’ve seen the publication of a stunning and equally definitive biography – A Strong Song Tows Us – The Life of Basil Bunting by Richard Burton. Share gives it the thumbs-up, calling it “thorough and companionable”. Tom Pickard, Bunting’s most famous student, calls it “an extraordinary life, the tale of the century”. Matthew Sperling, writing in The Literary Review, declares it to be “a triumph of patient archival spadework and sympathetic understanding, (representing) a major contribution to modern literary studies”. “I hope”, he writes, “that this biography will contribute to a resurgence in Buntings reputation.” We hope so too!

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting

Here’s Mark Ford’s review of the book in The Guardian – “Bunting emerges from Richard Burton’s thorougly researched and enthralling biography as living a life far more active and variegated than the bookish Eliot’s, and even the pugnacious, controversial Pound’s..” – a life, Sperling notes, “almost implausibly replete”.
Here’s Ian Pople reviewing the book for The Manchester Review. 
Here’s Wynn Wheldon reviewing the book in The Spectator
Liam Guilar has many intelligent things to say about it here and here (and here‘s his thoughts on the Share’s 2012 edition of Bunting’s translations, Bunting’s Persia)

Alastair Johnston and Greer Mansfield‘s observations on that, frankly, indispensible volume may be found here and here, and Share can be heard discussing the book with Leonard Schwartz here

Listen to Tom Pickard and others talking about Bunting in this brief BBC Radio 4 clip

Listen, most importantly listen, (Bunting was all about sound) to the wonderful trove of recordings of him reading his work available on PennSound.

William Burroughs, Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg – Photograph c. The Estate of Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg and Basil Bunting at Morden Tower

Allen Ginsberg and Basil Bunting

One comment

  1. On September 2 will David Eames Kammerer get a happy birthday? Unfortunately, the true story of what happened that hot August night, and the events leading up to it, will never be completely known. I blame Aaron Latham who started it all with the 1976 New York Magazine article. He had access to the manuscript of "And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks" and obviously treated everything it contained as the gospel truth. It was a novel for goodness sake. What I find far more interesting in Pat Harrison's (Patricia Goode's) rebuttal published a few months later. She appears to be the only person who never forgave Lucien Carr. How would the story play out it it was seen from her view, or Burroughs or even Chandler Brossards?

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