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This review is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

SNOW'S ON THE FELLSIDE, LOOK! Basil Bunting, Uncollected Poems, edited with notes by Richard Caddel (OUP) £7.99

It is surely a misfortune that Bunting's poetry has come to be a shibboleth in a struggle between 'modernist' Gileadites and 'conservative' Ephraimites, for his virtues are considerable, and the quarrel over his poetic 'place' serves only to obscure them. The quarrel is bound up with the quarrel over the status of Ezra Pound and those American poets, notably Creeley and Olson, whose practice derived in part from Pound, and whom critics like the anglophobe Hugh Kenner seem to see as constituting the only valid 20th-century tradition. In France earlier this century, an aesthetic creed established on the basis of Debussy's music was claimed to provide the only valid and properly 'modern' principles of composition. Just as the followers and epigones of Debussy were wrong, so is Kenner wrong. The arts do not run to critics' prescriptions, whatever critics may like to think. (Nor do the arts necessarily develop in the way artists may hope: Milton in his note on the verse of Paradise Lost makes much of recovering 'ancient liberty … from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming', but his best successors used and refined the heroic couplet.) The insistence that Bunting should be used as a technical model has done, and does, his poetry a disservice, and arouses needless antagonism against it. (The same is true in the case of Pound's poetry.) Some, or most, of this antagonism is, no doubt, 'insular' in the worst sense, but it does not seem to me to be worse ...


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