Basil Bunting’s re-emergence in 1966 with his long poem Briggflatts coincided with a period of extraordinary revival in British poetry. Rosemary Tonks was in her all-too-brief heyday before her disappearance in the 1970s; J H Prynne published The White Stones in 1969; W S Graham emerged from a long silence with Malcolm Mooney’s Land in 1970; and David Jones, Bunting’s fellow survivor from the heroic age of modernism, published a late masterpiece of his own, The Sleeping Lord, in 1974. As with much of the rest of his life, the story of Bunting’s creative reawakening has been heavily mythologised. Expelled from Mossadegh’s Iran and subbing on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, he was befriended by Tom Pickard and decided to write a long poem to show Pickard how it was done. The notebook version, Bunting boasted, was fifteen thousand lines long before being reduced to a tidier seven hundred lines. Evidence for the missing lines is scant, but the work masterfully harvested by Don Share here is reminder enough of Bunting’s centrality to modern British poetry.
His was a sensational life, as recounted (not always reliably) in Richard Burton’s 2013 biography A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting. Bunting was raised a Quaker, a fact that influenced his decision to become a conscientious