Basil Bunting, described as "the last minor master of the modernist mode" by Donald Hall in the New York Times Book Review, achieved his greatest popularity in the mid-1960s as one of the leaders of the new British literary avant-garde. Bunting's work was not always well-received; much of his early writing went largely unnoticed for years due to a mistaken association with Mussolini. Ezra Pound, an admirer of Bunting's poetry, frequently promoted Bunting's work while at the same time actively supporting Mussolini and his theories. Although Bunting did not share Pound's zealous support of Mussolini, critics and readers questioned the relationship between them and shied away from Bunting's writings. Bunting, whose work reflects the influences of Pound, Robert Browning, and William Wordsworth, enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, similar to that of his writing prior to the Mussolini association, when in the 1960s, London's Fulcrum Press reprinted some of his older work and published his new efforts. In analyzing the bulk of his work, some critics find Bunting's later poetry less reminiscent of his early influences; most consider Briggflatts his best work.
About his verse, Bunting himself suggests that readers look to his poetry only for its audio value and advises taking pleasure in the sheer sound combinations his poems afford. G. S. Fraser notes in the Times Literary Supplement that the poet's work "is verse which is directly melodic, which seems to sing rather than speak," adding, "Bunting perhaps excels all living poets in expressing emotional complexity through apparently simple—not so very simple—elodic artifice." Anthony Suter extends this musical metaphor in Agenda, observing that Bunting's poetry reflects "the structure of meanings, and, moreover, the meanings are organized according to a musical architecture—that of sonata form." Peter Dale of Agenda downplays the importance of melodic elements in Bunting's verse, asserting: "This use of musical form is ultimately a mere metaphorical usage.... In general, the musical approach is nearly always a form of anti-rationalism." About the musical qualities of Briggflatts, he specifies his objection: "Both in its use of sound and its gesture towards musical structure it is rather obvious and not a little contrived."
In the New York Times Book Review, Hall maintains that Bunting's poetry conveys a message as well as lyrical beauty, despite noting the poet's warning against interpreting his work: "'The attempt to find any meaning in it would be manifestly absurd."' Hall writes, "The wily Bunting, questioned about his own poems, reduces them to themes and variations, possibly because they are too intimate a matter for public discussion." Agenda's Suter defines Bunting's vivid imagery and symbolism as "particularly noteworthy" elements in deriving meaning from the poet's verse. Finally, in describing Collected Poems, Hall observes the melding of life and work, stating, "From the early 'Villon' to the late 'Overdrafts' ... the long life dances forth in a living voice."
Poet. Has held a variety of positions, including assistant editor, with Ford Madox Ford, of Transatlantic Review, Paris, 1923; newspaper music critic in London, England, 1925-28; lived in Italy, 1929-33, in Canary Islands, 1933-36, and in Iran, 1943-51; Evening Chronicle, Newcastle, England, financial sub-editor, 1953-66; teacher of poetry at several English, American, and Canadian universities, 1966-73.
POETRY, EXCEPT AS INDICATED:
- Redimiculum Matellarum, privately printed, 1930.
- Poems: 1950, Cleaners' Press, 1950, revised edition published as Loquitur, Fulcrum Press, 1965.
- The Spoils, Morden Tower Book Room (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), 1965.
- First Book of Odes, Fulcrum Press, 1965.
- Ode II/2, Fulcrum Press, 1965.
- Briggflatts: An Autobiography, Fulcrum Press, 1966, 2nd edition, 1966.
- Two Poems, Unicorn Press, 1967.
- What the Chairman Told Tom, Pym-Randall Press, 1967.
- (Author of preface) Tom Pickard, High on the Walls, Fulcrum Press, 1967.
- Collected Poems, Fulcrum Press, 1968, Oxford University Press, 1978, 2nd edition, 1980.
- (Editor and author of preface) Selected Poems of Ford Madox Ford, Pym-Randall Press, 1971.
- Version of Horace, Holborn, 1972.
- (Editor) Selected Poems of Joseph Skipsey, autographed edition, Ceolfrith Press, 1976.
- Uncollected Poems, edited by Richard Caddel, Oxford University Press, 1991.
- The Complete Poems, edited by Richard Caddel, Oxford University Press, 1994.
- Basil Bunting on Poetry, edited by Peter Makin, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1999.
- Basil Bunting, Briggflatts: An Autobiography, Fulcrum Press, 1966, 2nd edition, 1966.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 10, 1979; Volume 39, 1986; Volume 47, 1988.
- Jonathan Williams, Descant on Rawthey's Madrigal: Conversations with Basil Bunting, Gnomon, 1968.
- Roger Guadella, Basil Bunting: A Bibliography, Norwood, 1973, published as Basil Bunting, Folcroft, 1976.
- Agenda, Volume XVI, number 1, 1978.
- Times Literary Supplement, May 5, 1978.
- New York Times Book Review, July 2, 1978.
- Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 1978.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
- Who's Who, 136th edition, St. Martin's, 1984.
- The Writers Directory: 1984-1986, St. James Press, 1983.
- Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1985.
Poems By BASIL BUNTING
- More poems by Basil Bunting (15 poems)