Briggflatts by Basil Bunting

Today’s episode focusses on a single long poem – Briggflatts by the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting. It was recorded live in St Mary’s Church, Woodstock in Oxfordshire, as part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Andy and John are joined by Neil Astley, the founder of Bloodaxe Books, who knew and published Bunting, and Kirsten Norrie, a poet and composer who writes and performs under her Highland name, MacGillivray. The episode begins and ends with recordings made in 1977 of Bunting reading from the poem, which was first published in 1966. Until that time, Bunting, who in the 1930s had been a friend to W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, was living in semi-obscurity in rural Northumbria. It was his live readings of the poem, subtitled ‘An Autobiography’ at the medieval Mordern Tower in Newcastle that transformed his reputation. We discuss his remarkable and sometimes controversial life – before his exile he was at various times a music critic, a sailor, a balloon operator, a wing commander, a military interpreter, a foreign correspondent, and a spy – and its relationship to his work, and particularly Briggflatts, now regarded as one of the greatest English poems of the 20th century.

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