Basil Bunting was one of the most important British poets of the 20th century. Acknowledged since the 1930s as a major figure in Modernist poetry, first by Pound and Zukofsky and later by younger writers, the Northumbrian master poet had to wait over 30 years before his genius was finally recognised in Britain - in 1966, with the publication of Briggflatts, which Cyril Connolly called 'the finest long poem to have been published in England since T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
Born in Northumberland in 1900, Bunting lived in Paris in the 20s, where Ezra Pound rescued him from jail and fixed him up with a job on the Transatlantic Review. He later followed Pound to Italy - giving up his job to Hemingway - where Yeats knew him as 'one of Pound's more savage disciples'. For the next 30 years he led a sometimes wild and always varied life - in Italy, England, Berlin, Tenerife, America and Persia - as a struggling, penniless writer, a music critic, sea captain, RAF officer, Times correspondent and Chief of Political Intelligence in Tehran. During these years he built up a reputation in America as the best English poet of his generation, at the same time as his poetry was neglected in Britain. In 1954 he returned to Northumberland, and worked for several years as a sub-editor on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. It was not until the publication of Briggflatts that his genius was finally recognised. He died in 1985.
Complete Poems (2000) was reissued by Bloodaxe for Bunting's centenary and includes his original Collected Poems alongside the posthumous Uncollected Poems. It also contains a new introduction by Richard Caddel. The separate Bloodaxe edition of Briggflatts (2009) includes a CD with an audio recording Bunting made of Briggflatts in 1967 and a DVD of Peter Bell’s 1982 film portrait of Bunting. As well as his own notes to the poem, the book includes his seminal essay on sound and meaning in poetry, ‘The Poet’s Point of View’ (1966). Released in June 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Briggflatts, the enhanced ebook with audio of Complete Poems includes audio files of all of Bunting's major works, while the enhanced ebook with audio and video of Briggflatts includes audio files of two different readings by Bunting (1967 and 1977) together with a video of Peter Bell's film portrait.
The following books are useful guides to Bunting's life and work: Keith Aldritt: The Poet as Spy: The Life and Wild Times of Basil Bunting (Aurum Press, 1999); Richard Caddel & Anthony Flowers: Basil Bunting: A Northern Life (Newcastle Libraries and Information Service / Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, 1997); Victoria Forde: The Poetry of Basil Bunting (Bloodaxe Books, 1991); Peter Makin: Bunting: The Shaping of his Verse (Clarendon Press, 1992); Peter Quartermain: Basil Bunting: Poet of the North (Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, 1990); Richard Burton: A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting (2013). Selections of Bunting's prose are available in Basil Bunting on Poetry, ed. Peter Makin (John Hopkins University Press, 2000).
Bloodaxe first published Bunting in 1980 when one of the earliest titles was an LP record of Bunting reading Briggflatts in 1977 accompanied in one section of the poem by a Scarlatti sonata. That recording is now being reissued on the ebook with audio and video of Briggflatts, together with the 1967 audio recording released on cassette by Bloodaxe in 2000 and then included on the CD included with the 2007 Briggflatts edition. in 1991 Bloodaxe published the first major critical study of Bunting's work by Sister Victoria Forde. During his last years, Bunting lived at Tarset in Northumberland, just down the valley from where Bloodaxe Books was located for 15 years. Bloodaxe is named after Eric Bloodaxe, the last king of independent Northumbria, who features in Briggflatts as Bunting's opposite persona to the Cuthbert side of his Northumbrian identity.
Bloodaxe has sublicensed a critical edition of Bunting’s complete poetry, The Poems, edited by Don Share (2016), to Faber & Faber. This has three poems not included in the Bloodaxe edition, together with a number of variants, anomalies, fragments and "false starts": apart from those additions, Bloodaxe's Complete Poems is complete (but has no critical apparatus).
Books by Basil Bunting