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This review is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

PARALLEL LINES PETER MAKIN, Basil Bunting: The Shaping of his Verse (Clarendon Press Oxford) £45.00

Perhaps it is Bunting's longevity coupled with the meagreness of his poetic output which has meant that he seems to have been even more variously served by his critics than the other major figures of contemporary British poetry. The sixteen years which separate the composition of The Wells of Lycopolis, in 1935, from that of The Spoils, in 1951, mean that not only was it not the same man who wrote the two poems but it was not the same world in which they were received. And Bunting was very conscious of how the passage of time could influence the composition and reception of poetry. Dante, he said, was writing into an almost stable world so that his long poem worked. Pound, Bunting felt, was writing into such a constantly changing world that The Cantos were too ambitious a project for their age, and they ultimately failed. It is ironic that too many critics have not see that perception of time in Bunting's work and have blithely assumed that Bunting drove himself up the cul-de-sac which was High Modernism and never reversed out. In this reading Briggflatts is a great 'one off'; successful in its own terms but basically ignorable.

That reading is not Peter Makin's. Makin discusses .the other. major poems which Bunting wrote but sees them as prentice work; a writing away from the Pound model which Bunting uses in the early 'They Say Etna'. For Makin, Briggflatts is the culmination of a sparse, but ...


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