Associate editor: Richard Caddel
Basil Bunting (1900-85) 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'.
As well as Briggflatts, this new Complete Poems includes Bunting's other great Sonatas, most notably Villon (1925) and The Spoils (1951), along with his two books of Odes, his vividly realised 'Overdrafts' (as he called his free translations of Horace, Rudaki and others), and his brilliantly condensed Japanese adaptation, Chomei at Toyama (1932). Like the earlier Oxford edition, it presents in its entirety Bunting's own Collected Poems, with addition of the posthumous Uncollected Poems; but this centenary edition from Bloodaxe also has a new introduction by the late Richard Caddel.
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. In 2009 Bloodaxe published a separate edition of Briggflatts which 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.
'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 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.
Note on The Poems (2016)
Bloodaxe has sublicensed a critical edition of Bunting’s complete poetry, The Poems, edited by Don Share (2016), to Faber & Faber. This includes three minor poems not 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).
Enhanced e-book with audio
Bloodaxe issued 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 Complete Poems draws on audio recordings of readings given by Bunting in Britain and the US during the 1960s and 1970s, with 50 audio files embedded with the texts of the poems, including all his major works, Briggflatts, Villon, The Spoils and Chomei at Toyama, along with many shorter poems. Many thanks are due to Newcastle University for their assistance with this project under the KTP scheme.
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