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This review is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

THE MAIN THING BASIL BUNTING, Briggflatts (Bloodaxe) £12 (includes book, CD and DVD)

In Humphrey Carpenter’s A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound we have an entertaining glimpse of the young Basil Bunting in Paris, working as a roadmender whilst discovering Pound’s poetry: ‘after a drunken binge he had absentmindedly forced his way into the wrong hotel, had made advances to the concierge’s wife, had given the police “a good swift kick in the pants” when they tried to arrest him, and had found himself in jail “with a copy of Villon in my pocket”.’ Whilst this is one perspective on a rowdy moment from the Bunting odyssey, his long poem, Briggflatts (1966), gives us something poetically different. This modernist classic constitutes ‘An autobiography,’ as Bunting tells us in the reluctant notes, ‘but not a record of fact… The truth of the poem is of another kind.’ In its latest incarnation, the 24-page poem - a study of lost love and the mythic power of memory - is accompanied by essays, photos, notes from Bunting and a short but interesting account of his eventful life, plus a CD and Channel 4 DVD documentary. That is value for money. Ideally, one’s first approach to the poem should be to read and puzzle, enjoying the craggy atmosphere at least. However, Briggflatts presents difficulties of understanding. Consequently, the essays (particularly the pages of Bunting’s creed) and the CD and DVD magnify one’s sense of the poem.

Bunting himself would have settled for mystification, with the proviso that the reader read Briggflatts aloud. ...


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