Friday, 27 December 2013

By their works shall ye know them

Footballers without two brain cells to rub together appear on television and are asked their opinion on the Palestine/Israel conflict. They’re famous, you see, and this apparently confers some authority. There are even people who seem to be famous for being famous, since they do nothing but appear on television and give their feather-brained opinions to an adoring public.

The effect of celebrity culture on literature is that writers are, for many members of the public, better known for their lives than for their work. People shed crocodile tears for Sylvia Plath because of her suicide, which they blame on Ted Hughes. How much of the poetry of either have they read, one wonders? Oscar Wilde? Oh yes; they sent him to prison for being gay. Didn’t he write a play or something? Etc. etc.

Many readers go more for the letters and biographies of writers than for the writings themselves, so I need to justify the inclusion of A Strong Song Tows Us, the life of Basil Bunting, by Richard Burton, (No, not the actor and not the explorer; this one is a publisher) in my list of much-wanted Christmas books. You see, I have read very little of Basil Bunting’s (gosh, I’m glad my name isn’t Basil Bunting) poetry; not even his masterpiece (so I’m told) Briggflats. Few but poets have even heard of Bunting; he has become a ‘Poets’ poet’, but respected critical opinion is that he was one of the finest English language poets of the twentieth century. Reading his work is something I’ve been ‘meaning to do’ (People say ‘I’ve been meaning to write’ as if that somehow excused their failure to do so until prompted) for a long time. So when I heard of this biography I asked for it, but I have resolved not to read it until I have first read Bunting’s poetry; there is bound to be some Bunting in my four shelf metres of poetry books.

So I’m afraid I can’t tell you, yet, anything about either Bunting’s work or his life. Just that the poetry is good.

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Today we celebrate the release from prison of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina.




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