Friday, April 19, 2013

Basil Bunting on poetry...and writing it

This is a transcription from a part of a talk Bunting gave in London, in Keats house,  in 1979.  I have taken it from "The Recordings of Basil Bunting" and as always my thanks to Richard Swigg who looks after "The Bunting tapes".

My extract starts at 3.54...after it ends there is applause, a pause and then he reads: "Now we have no hope..." Punctuation is obviously mine, and doesn't do justice to the measured rhythm of his speech.

Poetry hampers itself when it undertakes advocacy, however indirectly. I would have maintained that, even against my much loved Hugh MacDiarmid,  whose advocacy was mostly against unreason, for thought and tolerance and renewal.  But poetry that advocates obscurantism, or, on the other hand, advocates naïve slogans of liberalism, is a nuisance to everybody who can read.

What I have tried to do is to make something that can stand by itself and last a little while without having to be propped by metaphysics or ideology or anything from outside itself, something that might give people pleasure without nagging them to pay their dues to the party or say their prayers, without implying the stifling deference so many people in this country still show to a Cambridge degree or a Kensington accent.

It’s's brought me just what I expected from the first; Nothing. If I set aside the handful of people who over praise  my verses and the few who take the trouble to run them down,  I think nobody takes any notice of them. Even my publisher hasn’t bothered to let me know, for all but a year, whether any copies of my collected poems have been sold or not, and I’ve never seen the book on sale in a book shop. I live on two small pensions, which together amount to somewhat less than the usual old age pension, in a house which is not mine  where Northern Arts allows me to stay in part of  new town planned for the greatest  possible density of population, in short an intentional slum.

I’m not complaining but describing conditions an honest poet must expect.  And they will get worse not better. Yet I think something is wrong where Arts Administrators draw salaries immeasurably more generous than any income that they find appropriate for an originating artist. Though they can be quite generous to performers.

And I think it’s unfortunate, for England, as well as for myself, that after sixty years of fairly good work without pay, I haven’t even a house of my own to die in.

Well, I’ll put that away, you’ve put up with it  and, well...….[Applause]

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