Today is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Basil Bunting, one of my favorite poets; I’ve devoted three posts to quoting him (1, 2, 3) and several others to discussing him. He’s obviously one of Mark Woods’ favorites too, because wood s lot commemorates him every year, and today’s post is particularly full of rich links and quotes. I’ll just pass on one, A Note on Basil Bunting by Robert Creeley (from his Collected Essays, available in their entirety online—bless you, University of California Press!):

I am curious to know if an implicit quality of language occurs when words are used in a situation peculiar to their own history. History, however, may be an awkward term, since it might well imply only a respectful attention on the part of the writer rather than the implicit rapport between words and man when both are equivalent effects of time and place. In this sense there is a lovely dense sensuousness to Bunting’s poetry, and it is as much the nature of the words as the nature of the man who makes use of them. Again it is a circumstance shared.

But the insistent intimate nature of his work moves in the closeness of monosyllables, with a music made of their singleness:

Mist sets lace of frost
on rock for the tide to mangle.
Day is wreathed in what summer lost.

Presumptuously or not, it seems to me a long time since English verse had such an English ear—as sturdy as its words, and from the same occasion.


  1. Recordings of Bunting reading his own poetry, including some on the wood s lot post: |YouTube| |audio| (I had to read that one three or four times before it fell into place.)

  2. In poetry workshops, everyone’s always telling you to use the ‘old words,’ which this poem (fragment) is full of – short, muscular, expressive. And it really is a useful guideline, I think. It’s also useful in that breaking it can create a specific effect, too, e.g., using multisyllabic Latinate terms. But this is only really possible because a lot of English vocabulary comes in doublets, because of its history, and I’ve always wondered if this kind of thing applies in other languages as well. In French poetry workshops, for example, what kinds of guidelines do they give you? It would be interesting to hear what goes into making poetry in other languages.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to this poet. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more English name: Basil Cheesman Bunting

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