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This article is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.

English and American in Briggflatts Donald Davie

ANGLO-AMERICAN poetry . . . if we need such a category at all, and whatever we might mean by it, Basil Bunting's poetry seems to belong there. His sensibility is profoundly English-not British but English, and Northumbrian English at that; and yet his techniques, his acknowledged masters and peers in the present century, are all of them American. This makes him a difficult poet. For the American reader he is difficult because the voice that speaks in his poems (and in his case 'voice' must be understood very literally), no less than the range of his allusions, especially topographical ones (and in Briggflatts topography is crucial), utter insistently an alien, a non-American, experience and attitude. For the English reader he is difficult because, line by line and page by page, his words come at us according to a system of juxtapositions and disjunctions which, because we can find no precedent for it among English poets, strikes us as not systematic at all but random and arbitrary. But plainly, on this showing, the English reader is better placed than the American: whereas one hardly knows where to tell an American reader to start in order to come to terms with Bunting, the English reader has only to acquaint himself with the body of arguments and assumptions about poetry that Bunting in his youth worked out in alliance with certain American contemporaries. We study his American associations only so that we may subsequently discount them. And we may well think that ...


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