Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Invent your own: Tom Pickard on form and Basil Bunting's Briggflatts
Although Bunting had a plan or diagram for Briggflatts I would argue that it was as much a walk in the dark for him as for anyone beginning to compose an original work. I’m sure that when he set off on his journey he wasn’t fully aware of what he’d find and had to leave much to chance. I mean, I don’t think that he lay down the blueprint and joined up the dots. There were key figures and emotions in mind - but they were distant mountains, and there was a lot of unknown territory between him and them.
As he began the journey of Briggflatts, Bunting was able discover new territory and chart the landscape as he hacked his way through it, heading for the mountains that peaked over the jungle. But he found that he was also able place material already to hand. His "Coda," the perfect end to Briggflatts, was written - on the back of tax return envelope - long before he’d even thought about the poem. Naturally, he was always thinking about form and taking pleasure in the masters and mistresses of it, and spent a lifetime studying it - but he also gave me some advice that I very much took to heart. As a young man I asked him “What aboot form, Basil?” He replied, “Invent your own.” That off-the-cuff response to my earnest query over a beer one night - invent your own - is tattooed, as it were, on my writing hand.
I can understand Bunting's joy when he found that old tax return envelope. In fact I remember him in the mid-sixties, first taking a blue pencil (more like a bloody scythe) to my early poems and leaving only two lines standing. "Just hang on to it, you'll find a use for it somewhere." Bunting's admonitions and strictures are never far from my mind, but I do occasionally trespass into uncharted territory for the hell of it. He encouraged experiment and suggested that we shouldn't be afraid to fail. It's almost an empirical approach to making poems.
-- from the December 2010 issue of Poetry