Thursday, April 18, 2013

Basil Bunting: March 1st 1900-April 17th 1985

Bunting looking back on his life:
Once upon a time I was a poet; not a very industrious one, not at all an influential one; unread and almost unheard of, but good enough in a small way to interest my friends, whose names have become familiar: Pound and Zukofsky first, Carlos-Williams, Hugh MacDairmid, David Jones, few indeed, but enough to make me think my work was not wasted.

(From Peter Bell's excellent short film about him: which comes as an extra with the equally excellent Bloodaxe edition of Briggflatts.)

 It’s called Litotes or perhaps meiosis. I know this because these terms were  hammered into me, as a sixth former studying ‘Poetry”, gagging on Keats and Milton and learning to spell paronomasia years before this film was made.  But if you listen carefully to the way he says it, there’s a sly undercutting in the pauses, the very slight pauses, between ‘friends’ and “whose names have become familiar”.

Tom Pickard's "Spring Tide" is a fine salutation, but the thing that rings in my head is Bunting's words as preface to a poetry reading in Keats' House in London in 1979, describing the conditions an "honest poet" should expect:

After sixty years of fairly good work, without pay, I haven't even a house of my own to die in.   

and the fact his audience seems to giggle in response...

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