Monday, June 29, 2015

Julian Stanard. 'Basil Bunting. Writers and their work' (2014). part one

Julian Stanard. Basil Bunting. Writers and their work.

First the Mini book review.

Readers of this Blogg (all two of them) may find some things being repeated.

This is an fine, short introduction to Bunting's work. For a man who was widely regarded as one of his country's leading poets at the time of his death, Bunting is all but invisible today. Books about him are rare.  I think this is only the third full length treatment of the man and his work, and while it won't supersede Peter Makin's Bunting; the shaping of his verse, that book is hard to find and second hand copies are expensive.

One of the reasons Bunting is all but invisible is that his poems are hard to write about.  They either attract a detailed exegesis of all the allusions, which can be overwhelming, or a brief nod to sound and technique that doesn’t take up much page space. Stanard walks the line between the two extremes and manages to give any new reader reasons to read the poems, while still having enough to say to make the book useful to Bunting addicts.

Bunting divided his work into three groups: Sonata's, Odes, Overdrafts. The Sonatas are long poems, his career is almost bookended by two;  Villlon and Briggflatts. But he also wrote excellent short pieces: the Odes. His translations, from what is an impressive range of languages,  he called Overdrafts. In such a short space Stanard obviously has to choose what to discuss, and he chooses to devote more space to the Sonatas and to Chomei at Toyama. Perhaps it's not done in a book like this, but it would be possible to suggest that while the Sonatas, Attis and The Well of Lycopolis are essential reading for Bunting devotees, they fail as poems, thus freeing space because some of the Odes deserve and would benefit from a decent discussion.

The only reservation I have about this book has nothing to do with Stanard or his publisher. But as it will be the most available introduction to Bunting, it's a pity it was written before Stanard could access Richard Burton's excellent new biography: A Strong Song Tows Us (2014), which replaces/updates/makes redundant The Poet as Spy and probably will remain the definitive biography given publishers' lack of interest in Bunting. 

For those interested in Bunting as Translator, Don Share's recent edition of Bunting's Persia (2012) was also probably too late to be included.

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