Sunday, 29 July 2012
BUNTING CONFERENCE AT DURHAM
Earlier in July I attended the Basil Bunting conference: With Sleights Learned From Others: Basil Bunting and Friends, which took place at St John's College, Durham University, 4-5 July 2012. It's a long time since I was in Durham, 1981 I think, to visit Ric and Ann Caddel and stay over with them. This was a good two day conference, with some parallel sessions, and the standard of the papers I attended was very good on the whole. I particularly enjoyed seeing Harriet Tarlo give a talk on Bunting, Lorine Neidecker and Richard Caddel, establishing a tradition coming out of Objectivism of environmental poetics. The care for precise observation and the invention of appropriate form based on 'music' would be shared. I really enjoyed the paper and thought it gave a good introduction to the poetry of Neidecker and Caddel, which was the point, for Bunting readers.
I saw Alex Pestell on Bunting's criticism of William Carlos Williams, Nicoletta Ascuito on Bunting's use of an Italian source for his poem 'Chomei at Toyama', and Philip Sidney on W.S. Graham's use of the frozen polar landscape. Don Share of Poetry Chicago gave the annual Basil Bunting Lecture, Bunting's Persia. That evening I gave a poetry reading with Tom Pickard and Amy Evans at the Williams Library in St Chad's College, which was packed. It was a pleasure to read four of Ric Caddel's shorter poems at the beginning of my set, to get him heard in Durham, though he was unable to be there in person. I hadn't seen Tom Pickard read before, his was an excellent set and it was good to see Amy Evans read again.
Richard Parker's talk on Bunting, Zukofsky and Briggflatts was a high point of the conference for me. Louise Chamberlain gave an interesting account of Tom Pickard's career that connected somewhat with his earlier reading. Samuel Rogers was concerned with place and National or regional identity in the writings of various modernist poets. There was a very good poetry reading by Harriet Tarlo, Rory Waterman, Michael Zand, Dez Mendoza and Julian Stannard, all of it interesting. I was particularly amused by the lovely witty poems read by Julian Stannard.
We had a showing of a wonderful film on Roy Fisher called Birmingham is What I Think With. This ambitious documentary presented Fisher's life and work, really integrating the piano playing and writing, and using the built environment, especially the way that the 19th century industrial landscape is still there. There was a touching meeting with a young Asian boy living in Fisher's old house and a stunt of walking the old front door of the house through the city. This was great fun and woven in with shots of Fisher reading his work and playing Jazz. I loved this brilliant and funny film. I thought it a very good introduction to Fisher's work and a fine response to Birmingham. It ought to be shown on TV. It was a real treat to see it at the conference.
A very special talk by Colin Simms was personal memoir of Bunting, rant against the morals of certain University academics in botany fieldwork, and the captions accompanying some slides of Bunting's friends, which photos were sadly not available to be seen. Colin Simms finished with the reading of a very fine short memorial poem to Bunting, which was worth the wait.
The final session included Bradford Haas on Joseph Macleod's The Ecliptic as a forerunner to Briggflatts, very usefully putting Macleod's work in front of Bunting readers. Also Annabel Haynes, the main conference organiser did a very good reading of Bunting's poetry based on pride in skilled labour, making connections with William Morris's socialism. Last was Julian Stannard's excellent paper on 'Chomei at Toyama', I learned a lot.
I'm very grateful to the organisers for their splendid hospitality. I enjoyed staying in St John's college. I was able to visit my friend Ann Caddel for the first time in many years and I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of days focused on Bunting's poetry.