I will return to Joseph Campbell, and the footnote poets. Chronic illness has a way of interrupting plans. However, one is excited.
(What follows was meant to be a short expression of excitement, but it got out of hand. There were fascinating rabbit holes which just appeared as I was writing it and since I’m not late for any important dates, I gleefully accepted their invitation. So this ended up in three parts).
Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, even further than last Friday, Faber began advertising a hardback edition of Basil Bunting’s Complete Poems, edited by Don Share.
The current Amazon blurb reads:
This is the first critical edition of the complete poems, and offers an accurate text with variants from all printed sources. Don Share annotates Bunting's often complex and allusive verse, 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.
I preordered mine in April 2010, and at regular intervals for the past five years I have been receiving updates from Amazon, which politely tell me they are still waiting for the book to be published.
But now, six years later, there is a publication date of 16th of June and an estimated delivery date.
One is excited.
Why? That’s a good question. Well, there is dearth of things Bunting so anything new is welcome.
The claim that this is the first ‘critical edition’ is perhaps bending the definitions of the word ‘critical’. There’s a Complete Poems, published by BloodAxe (1999) and edited by Richard Caddel. It contains a section of ‘uncollected poems’. It’s a paperback and mine is starting to fall apart. It was falling apart five years ago so a hardback at least promises longevity.
There’s a chance that there remain some poems that are not in Caddel’s edition. Richard Burton published at least one previously unpublished piece in his recent biography, A Strong Song Tows Us (2014). The complete Persian poems, as recently published separately by Don Share, Bunting’s Persia (2013), will hopefully be included. There’s always the possibility of drafts, which could be enlightening to those of us interested in ‘how he did it’.
But there’s also the danger of dredging up pieces that do the poet’s reputation no favors. I think there’s a good reason why Eliot turned down some of the Persian translations. And Ode 11 in the First Book of Odes ‘Narciss, my numerous cancellations prefer’ expressed Bunting’s strong opinions on the subject, in response, To a Poet who advised me to preserve/my fragments and false starts.
In Part two, the problem of Annotations.