Wednesday, March 19, 2008
What The Chairman Told Basil
Tom Pickard has kindly passed along to me some remarks he sent to Bill Corbett after he read Basil Bunting's "What the Chairman Told Tom" at Dove Cottage last year - I reproduce them here with Tom's generous permission, and hope Bill won't mind.
"Perhaps I should write 'What The Chairman Told Basil.' The poem is as much about BB’s treatment at the hands of those people as it is about their treatment of me. Equally so. Which makes it an interesting ‘class blind’ for those who don’t get the joke; he was bemoaning his own lot, in the guise of a sympathetic/ ironic but detached observer. A clever way to avoid self-pity. It’s the same sentiment as the one expressed in 1929:
An arles an arles for my hiring,
O master of singers, an arlespenny!
--Well sung singer, said Apollo,
But in this trade we pay no wages.
I too was once a millionaire
(in Germany during the inflation:
When the train steamed into Holland
I had not enough for a bun.)
The Lady asked the Poet:
Why do you wear your raincoat in the drawing-room?
He answered: Not to show
My arse sticking out of my trousers.
His muse left him for a steady man.
Quaeret in trivio vocationem.
(he is cadging for drinks at the streetcorners.)
Of course he was writing explicitly about my experiences, my dealings with the council, dole officials, art officials, etc, but time, in that respect, hadn’t changed for him either and 'What The Chairman Told Tom' is a finer honed version of the 1929 ode. And the shame implicit in the later poem isn’t that a young poet (Tom) should be so humiliated, (young poets have enough in-growing ego to self-sustain), the shame is that an old poet (Basil) must cadge ‘for drinks on the street corners’ and be humiliated by the insolence of arts officials unworthy of wiping the shit off his shoes."