Thrilled to be able to announce the publication (publication-date is June 16 ) of a new edition ofThe Poems of Basil Bunting, lovingly and attentively edited by Poetry magazine editor, Don Share.
“This is the first critical edition of the complete poems, and offers an accurate text with variants from all printed sources”. Share, “annotates Bunting’s often complex and allusive verse”, Faber and Faber, the publishers, note, “with much illuminating quotation from his prose writings, interviews and correspondence. He also examines Bunting’s use of sources (including Persian literature and classical mythology), and explores the Northumbrian roots of Bunting’s poetic vocabulary and use of dialect.”
Basil Bunting– it’s his year – This year (as we’ve previously noted), 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of his masterly achievement “Briggflatts“ Tom Pickard‘s note on that, (published, earlier this year, in Poetry magazine, can be readily accessed – here) Alex Niven, another of the Briggflatts-anniversary organizers, may be heard speaking on Bunting – here (that recording also includes an audio treat – Bunting reading the “Coda” from “Briggflatts” (“A strong song tows/us, long earsick..”)) Further recordings (a considerable number of further recordings) of Bunting may be listened to – here
Full details now out regarding the Newcastle celebratory event, Briggflatts-50, (scheduled for the weekend of June 24th-25th) – beginning with an anniversary reading of the poem at the happily re-opened Morden Tower – see here (Bunting was also featured prominently in the recent Newcastle Poetry Festival, most notably in a panel-discussion with Niven and Share and Harvard poet, critic, and professor, Stephen Burt)
Meanwhile, Tom Pickard has put up on You Tube these three priceless excerpts of Ginsberg-on-Bunting (for which we should be eternally grateful) Let Allen tell the story:
AG: I heard through American poets that there was a reading series at Morden Tower run by Tom Pickard, a young lad, who’d made friends with the immortal, mysterious Basil Bunting, and I was in England, having been kicked out of Czechoslovakia for opposing the Czech Marxist bureaucracy on matters of sex and social behaviour and had just arrived. Bob Dylan was in London to give his big concerts at the Albert Hall. And then I travelled north, at the invitation of Tom Pickard to the poetry reading (part of a series that, I think, already Jonathan Williams, a friend and publisher, and Robert Creeley, may have been there already. And it was sort of a regular venue for Americans. It was one of the few places hospitable to post-Williams, post–Poundopen form, modern, post-modern, American poetry. And there was also the attraction of Bunting being there and meeting him for the first time after knowing his work already for a dozen years or more. So Mordern Tower was smaller than I expected and less comfortable to sit around in, but I was so excited by the idea of reading with Bunting in the audience that I read for..I think, three hours, or something like that! (I read all through “Howl”,and some of the poems that accompany that book, and then maybe all through “Kaddish”, and then some more recent poems from India, and maybe exhausting the audience, but Bunting sat through the whole thing, a very distinguished man in tweeds of some sort and a slightly-greying hair, and he’d got..sort of furrows in his face, (not wrinkles), a kind of intelligent eye, sparse words but usually very incisive. And when the reading was over, I asked him what he thought, full of myself, and he said, “too many words”. And, somehow, that struck home. Not meaning, you know that I’d wrote too much but that there was not sufficient condensation in the writing, that it could be improved by, say, maximum information, minimum number of syllables. I understood what he meant as not disapproving of the poems or the subject or vulgarity or anything like that, but that there could be condensation and less syntactical fat in the writing.
Inca stonework. Inca stonework is stonework that doesn’t have water in-between (because all of the stones fit like a jigsaw-puzzle against one another) and that seems to be the ideal in Bunting, where the words fit against each other, so that there’s no.. they’re seamless. Like if you.., in “Briggflatts”, his poem of that era, the ‘Sixties, he has a verse describing a cart rolling through countryside on an old road and the entire landscape and the nature of the cart and the nature of the road are described in four or five words with, “a fellow mutters to axel” [“harness mutter to shaft/felloe to axel squeak”]/rut thuds the rim” – and it was that “rut thuds the rim” that really blew my mind, because it’s these four, like, Anglo-Saxon words – “rut thuds the rim’ – you get a picture of the road (“rut”), “the rim” gives you the cart, the nature of the cart and the wheels of the cart, (and) “thuds” gives you the whole physical jar and motion of the cart going, you know, through ruts in a country road. In that… it’s sort of what I meant by Inca stonework – “Rut thuds the rim” is four.. four words, three of which are very heavy solid vowels – “rut”, “thuds”, “rim” , and in that you get a picture of the whole landscape. So that’s how I understood his notion of condensation. And I used that line in teaching, still, because it’s so obvious, and so jarring, in a sense.
And then there was a life-cycle situation, in which, I believe, he had gone to visit an old love that he had not seen for, well, decade after decade after decade, maybe, fifty years? And he lost her in youth, and there was this re-meeting in old age, and the same charms were there, same.. something of the same heart-felt fidelity (although wrinkled by this time). And so it (“Briggflats”) is a poem which recaps the love lost and found of a whole lifetime – the poem about the buried lifetime that he lived, in a sense, when he was away from England, following a kind of foreign study of, I imagine, Sufi and Persian poetry. But the old domestic love still existed, it was still alive, the woman that he was involved with as a young man, or admired as a young man. So it’s this recapitulation of the whole history of his lifetime, very poignant.