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This review is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

THE SACRAMENTAL WOODLOUSE KEITH ALDRITT, The Poet as Spy: The Life and Wild Times of Basil Bunting (Aurum) £19.95

Briggflatts, Donald Davie wrote, twenty years ago, 'is where English poetry has got to, it is what English poets must assimilate and go on from.' Why has that assimilation not happened? One answer is that Bunting's supporters have themselves been mavericks and/or geographically dispersed. In Britain it is Davie or the embattled figure of Kenneth Cox who have written best about Bunting. His other supporters have written from abroad: Peter Makin, whose highly idiosyncratic Bunting: The Shaping of his Verse was the last major book published on Bunting in Britain, lives in Japan; Peter Quatermain, who has also written extensively on Bunting, and Bunting's new biographer, Keith Aldritt, have mostly operated from Canada. Thus Bunting has remained outside the academic mainstream in this country. Perhaps Thom Gunn will finally publish his projected book on Bunting.

As Davie also said, in comparing Gunn and Bunting, Gunn has 'a public' but Bunting, has only ever had 'a following'. Few of the current pot-pourri of British poets cite him as an influence. The poets of the Patmiwell New Generation seem rarely to have read him. The Language poets take their poetics straight from the Americans - Pound, himself, Ashbery and Bernstein - and have bypassed Bunting. And it has been left to Ric Caddel and the poets around the Bunting Archive in Durham to carry the Bunting torch.

Many of the poets who dominate the mainstream of contemporary poetry seem only to pay attention to Auden, which is ...


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