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’.
Bunting called Briggflatts his ‘autobiography’. It is a complex work, drawing on many elements of his life, experience and knowledge, and features the saint Cuthbert and the warrior king Eric Bloodaxe as two opposing aspects of the Northumbrian – and his – character. Its structural models include the sonata form (and Scarlatti’s music in particular) and the latticework of the Lindisfarne Gospels, while thematically it recalls Wordsworth’s Prelude.
Bunting wrote that ‘Poetry, like music, is to be heard.’ His own readings of his own work are essential listening for a full appreciation of his highly musical poetry. This new edition 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 (and a posthumously published additional Note), the new edition includes his seminal essay on sound and meaning in poetry, ‘The Poet’s Point of View’ (1966), and other background material. All his poetry is available in Complete Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2000).
‘Briggflatts is one of the few great poems of this century. It seems to me greater each time I read it’ – Thom Gunn.
‘His poems are the most important which have appeared in any form of the English language since T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land’ – Hugh MacDiarmid.
Basil Bunting reading from Briggflatts
This video features four short extracts of Basil Bunting reading from his long poem Briggflatts (not in order), from Peter Bell's 1982 film portrait of Bunting, included on a DVD issued with the new Bloodaxe edition of Briggflatts (which also has a CD of an audio recording Bunting made of the whole of Briggflatts in 1967). Peter Bell’s superb film Basil Bunting: An introduction to the work of a poet was made by Northeast Films and first shown on Channel Four in 1982. The first two extracts here follow the sequence used in the film, not that of the poem itself (the second extract is the opening of the poem: 'Brag, sweet tenor bull...'). Most of the film was shot around (and in) Brigflatts meeting house near Sedbergh, Cumbria, and at Greystead Cottage in Northumberland’s Tarset valley, where Bunting lived from 1981 to 1984. The film is from the Arts Council England film collection, and is copyright Arts Council of Great Britain 1982.
Enhanced e-book with audio & video
Bloodaxe is issuing enhanced e-books with audio of Basil Bunting's Complete Poems and (with audio and video) Briggflatts in June 2016, marking the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Briggflatts in 1966. The e-book of Briggflatts includes the video of Peter Bell's film previously available only on the DVD accompanying the print edition along with two audio recordings of Bunting reading Briggflatts, the 1967 London recording from the CD accompanying the print edition, and the 1977 Carlisle recording previously released by Bloodaxe Books on an LP record in 1980, the latter featuring Domenico Scarlatti's sonata in B minor, L.33, one of the poem's main structural models. Many thanks are due to Newcastle University for their assistance with this project under the KTP scheme.
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