Friday, February 22, 2013

Basil Bunting, lost love, and advocacy

Part of our excitement every day at Tavern Books has to do with the work of bringing out-of-print books back into a living catalog. Publishers have the great responsibility—and the great luck—to serve as advocates for writers, and in our case that means attempting to reintroduce important, loved poets who have gone under-represented. This week, I've been listening to an LP of Basil Bunting reading his long poem “Briggflatts” and thinking about the history of a tremendous poet who was little known for the majority of his life. As the story goes, what slight recognition Bunting garnered as a young poet (including the admiration and very public support of Ezra Pound) couldn't withstand his long service to the British Military during and following World War II; when he returned to his native Newcastle in his fifties, he suffered a long period of painful poverty and obscurity. But helped by the fierce advocacy of a group of young writers who were in awe of his poetry, he was able to gain a public presence very late in life. At the helm of this group was the rogue adolescent poet Tom Pickard, who organized readings for Bunting in Newcastle and promoted his work to publishers like Fulcrum Press. It was during this second wind, at the age of sixty-four, that Bunting began his masterpiece “Briggflatts”—an intensely musical and guttural autobiographical poem about a lost love from his youth. To think: one of the first things he did after being rediscovered was to recover for the world something else that had been lost! What strikes me most when reading it, and especially when hearing Bunting read it on the recording, is that the very precise and real object of love at the center of the poem seems almost equally weighted with the beautiful, boggy layers of personal, local, and national history; regional mythology; and literary tradition that unfold around her. It's as if when Bunting resurrected his lost love, he couldn't help but dredge up all kinds of cultural debris with her. With any hope, that's the kind of dredging-up that we—the reading public, writers, literary advocates, and publishers—can accomplish when we help usher a forgotten but loved poet back into a catalog.

--Natalie Garyet