A Strong Song Tows Us, The Life of Basil Bunting, by Richard Burton (Infinite Ideas)
This is an astonishingly individual, direct and engaging biography of one of the most important poets of the twentieth-century; it possesses that hallmark of the serious work, a sense that it really matters to the writer. As Richard Burton takes us through his reasons behind committing the past three years to this work he opens up a picture of a landscape, Bunting’s autobiographical poem Briggflatts, ‘as the spine of this life’:
‘Bunting’s poem acts as the Pennine Chain of this book, holding its landscape together on the one hand and, I hope, providing vistas that help us see the hinterland of Bunting’s work.’
This is not a review of Burton’s biography but merely a sign posting readers towards the review which will appear in Tears in the Fence 59. That said, let the difficulty of the biographer’s task remain uppermost in the mind as one reads Bunting’s response to Faber’s Editorial Director when asked for an endorsement which could be used as blurb for the cover of the Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound:
Thank you for sending me the book. It makes me shudder. No doubt it is fitting that maggots consume us in the end, or at least the rubbish we scatter as we go; but I’d rather leave the lid on my dustbin and the earth on my friends’ graves. Piety takes curious forms: the toenail clippings of Saint What’s His Name are revered. I don’t think religion is much advanced by that. It would be more profitable, more to his glory, to throw away some of the poems Pound printed than to print those he threw away himself. I apologise for my lack of sympathy for the industrious compilers.
Ian Brinton January 17th 2014