Basil Cheesman Bunting (1 March 1900 – 17 April 1985) was a significant British modernist poet whose reputation was established with the publication of Briggflatts in 1966. He had a lifelong interest in music that led him to emphasise the sonic qualities of poetry, particularly the importance of reading poetry aloud. He was an accomplished reader of his own work, and a born modernist.
Life and career
Born into a Quaker family in Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland (now part of Newcastle upon Tyne), he studied at two Quaker schools: from 1912–1916 at Ackworth School in Yorkshire and from 1916–1918 at Leighton Park School in Berkshire. His Quaker education strongly influenced his pacifist opposition to World War I, and in 1918 he was arrested as a conscientious objector, serving a sentence of more than a year in Wormwood Scrubs and Winchester prisons. Bunting's friend Louis Zukofsky described him as a "conservative/anti-fascist/imperialist", though Bunting himself listed the major influences on his artistic and personal outlook somewhat differently as "Jails and the sea, Quaker mysticism and socialist politics, a lasting unlucky passion, the slums of Lambeth and Hoxton ..."
These events were to have an important role in his first major poem, "Villon" (1925). "Villon" was one of a rather rare set of complex structured poems that Bunting labelled "sonatas," thus underlining the sonic qualities of his verse and recalling his love of music. Other “sonatas” include “Attis: or, Something Missing,” “Aus Dem Zweiten Reich,” “The Well of Lycopolis,” “The Spoils” and, finally, “Briggflatts.” After his release from prison in 1919, traumatised by the time spent there, Bunting went to London, where he enrolled in the London School of Economics, and had his first contacts with journalists, social activists and Bohemia. Bunting was introduced to the works of Ezra Pound by Nina Hamnett who lent him a copy of Homage to Sextus Propertius. The glamour of the cosmopolitan modernist examples of Nina Hamnett and Mina Loy seems to have influenced Bunting in his later move from London to Paris.
After travelling in Northern Europe, Bunting left the London School of Economics without a degree and went to France. There, in 1923, he became friendly with Ezra Pound, who years later would dedicate his Guide to Kulchur (1938) to both Bunting and Louis Zukofsky, "strugglers in the desert". Bunting's poetry began to show the influence of this friendship and he visited Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and later settled there with his family from 1931 to 1933. He was published in the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine, in the Objectivist Anthology, and in Pound's Active Anthology.
During World War II, Bunting served in British Military Intelligence in Persia. After the war, he continued to serve on the British Embassy staff in Tehran until he was expelled by Muhammad Mussadegh in 1952.
Back in Newcastle, he worked as a journalist on the Evening Chronicle until his rediscovery during the 1960s by young poets, notably Tom Pickard and Jonathan Williams, who were interested in working in the modernist tradition. In 1965, he published his major long poem, Briggflatts, named for the Quaker meeting house in Cumbria where he is now buried. In later life he published Advice to Young Poets entitled I SUGGEST advising 'Compose aloud: poetry is a sound'.
Divided into five parts, Briggflatts is a kind of poetic autobiography, looking back on teenage love and on Bunting's involvement in the high modernist period. In addition, "Briggflatts" can be read as a meditation on the limits of life and a celebration of Northumbrian culture and dialect, as symbolised by events and figures like the doomed Viking King Eric Bloodaxe. The critic Cyril Connolly was among the first to recognise the poem's value, describing it as "the finest long poem to have been published in England since T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets".
Portrait bust of Basil Bunting
Basil Bunting sat in Northumberland for sculptor Alan Thornhill with a resulting terracotta (for bronze) in existence. The correspondence file relating to the Bunting portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist.
- 1930: Redimiculum Matellarum (privately printed)
- 1950: Poems (Cleaners' Press, 1950) revised and published as Loquitur (Fulcrum Press, 1965).
- 1965: The Spoils
- 1965: First Book of Odes
- 1965: Ode II/2
- 1966: Briggflatts: An Autobiography
- 1967: Two Poems
- 1967: What the Chairman Told Tom
- 1968: Collected Poems
- 1972: Version of Horace
- 1991: Uncollected Poems (posthumous, edited by Richard Caddel)
- 1994: The Complete Poems (posthumous, edited by Richard Caddel)
- 1999: Basil Bunting on Poetry (posthumous, edited by Peter Makin)
- "Basic Bunting - A Basic Chronology". Basil Bunting Poetry Center. Durham University. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- Schmidt, Michael , Lives of the Poets Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1998
- Pursglove, Glyn (21 March 2002). "Basil Bunting". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 7 May 2006.
- Myers, Alan (2004). "Basil Bunting (1900–1985)". Myers Literary Guide to North-East England. Centre for Northern Studies. Archived from the original on 5 March 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2006.
- James J. Wilhelmm, Ezra Pound: the tragic years, 1925-1972, Penn State Press, 1994, p. 128.
- Bill Griffiths (1998). Chicago Review 44.
- Peter Makin, "Bunting: the Shaping of his Verse" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)
- Schmidt, Michael , Lives of the Poets Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1998
- portrait head of Basil Bunting in clay for bronze image of sculpture by Alan Thornhill who travelled to Northumberland for Bunting's sitting
- http://www.henry-moore-fdn.co.uk/matrix_engine/content.php?page_id=584 HMI Archive
- Bunting, Basil I SUGGEST, Advice to Young Poets Basil Bunting Poetry Archive, Duraham University Library 190
- Alldritt, Keith, The Poet As Spy: The Life and Wild Times of Basil Bunting Aurum Press, London, 1998, ISBN 978-1-85410-477-9.
- Makin, Peter (editor) Basil Bunting on Poetry, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1999. ISBN 978-0-8018-6166-6.
- Alldritt, Keith, Modernism in the Second World War:The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Basil Bunting and Hugh MacDiarmid Peter Lang, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-8204-0865-4
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Basil Bunting|
- Listen to Basil Bunting reading one of his poems aloud
- Basil Bunting Poetry Centre
- Basil Bunting's Grave
- Basil Bunting Home Page at EPC, Buffalo
- At Briggflatts Meetinghouse recording read by the author
- Minor Poet, Not Conspicuously Dishonest Richard Caddel's Introduction to Complete Poems
- Review of Complete Poems