Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Basil Bunting (Encomia, No Slag)



“A gadfly to the dead horse of capital” is what one sees, a wondrous
          phrase to be so
Aptly caught up out of the sieve constantly raking through language,
          all language. Neck peeling, the scratch’d bug-
Bites scabbing up, my whole “system” beginning to make its pact with Dogged
Regularity, dodging its feints and bravado with a somewhat dire nap-
          insistence, a way of putting some slack
And rebuttal in the line, the one design’d to draw the panier of ghost
          petunias up through the morning’s splintery light, or pour
Out the tumbler of orange juice and coax the trio of chickadee comedians
          into the pine woods for acrobatic bantamweight ruckus
Manoeuvres, epochal achievements with seed extracting, with ancillary probes
          aim’d at crevasses in the bark of the ant-infest’d sugar

Maple directly blocking the sun. The territory of skepticism shrugs like a ray—
          two protuberant eye-knobs in an acre of sand—and uncovers only
Itself. Only to dash off with alarming pulchritude abetted by personal
Testiness—“But hath a part of being, and a sense / Of that which is of all
          Creator and defense.” (Byron, who want’d a hero.) I suspect beauty lies
In most meagre assent, in the rude deplorable aftermaths of the tentative, its
          torn and bleeding insurrect. Here, some authentic publicity posters, suitable
For hanging. Some flowers coming through the door just now. “Spotted knapweed, alien
          of the glacier-scraped plains, meet horse-nettle of the creek banks.
Yellow foxglove, meet sow-thistle.” All reticence is particular and all sentences local.
          Next to the pyramidal stacks of polyvinyl chloride piping, the upcoming light
Throws the monument’s letters—rudely incised with a Bowie knife—into
          matutinal relief.

Processual note. If I begin (post-travail) with the daily ruckus of A Year-making—that “entry”—and turn next, fatigue’d, to something “Of Note”—thinking of dropping a couple of items in a shallowly dug pit—and find myself caught, rather, in a veritable formicary, ants, the red and biting kind, traversing my extremities, burrowing into my navel, pincering my unstately pubis angelicus, “&c.”—so that I run down like a clock, throw myself into the tangled sheets with Inherent Vice (“meh”), and am still “at it” come morning light mousing up the distant mural of a room stripped of its papier peint, then I tend to allow morning my minion-labor “of noting” to “do” (in some kind of buffle-head’d “In order to arrive at what you are not / You must go through the way in which you are not” hogwash), and get stuck here, like today, with two fat pieces of bread, agreeably enough, though, obviously, no meat in the sandwich.

Of Note

Seems I perennially stumble into Basil Bunting chrestomathy. Recently, for a buck, the Jonathan Williams-edit’d raft of encomia in one of the early (1985) Conjunctions. Here’s Kenneth Irby (I like the ceremonial vatic mode, its big voice, half Christopher Smart, half Gerard Manley Hopkins):
[Sophrosyne Spring muse overhang • Memorial Day]
Basil Bunting in memoriam

lift the ragged peony skirts, the rain soak dry to mind, and then that mind to
          vastness shown by its own mind

the then the story all so obvious it’s eluded me, and every day to have to tell,
          so certain and so central is it, and so certain that it walks the tops of
          flowers open

just time enough to run out after music in the air to take, the poets’ overhair
          and rates remaking, and pay for back the blood and sacrifice

and still so obvious it keeps on eluding, the morning of the poem is not the
          poem then, the then that vastness only to another recreation beaten, the
          afternoon of the hearthonk almost wakes

decoration evening, whatever wreath for memory, at least the meat loaf make!

to share to celebrate, and with the wasp that walks the balcony head down into
          the South, minutely prospecting magnitude

honor the skald who lays the common solid vulgar stones that yield, to hardwon
          heart, cut song anew, kick buggerall, king over self and banner petals
          flying, into the great intensity

for the Craft, for something like the Glory of God
Capsule in that “minutely prospecting magnitude” (the balcony’d wasp) whilst the maker’s out there high-stepping it flower by flower “into the great intensity.” That is to say, the necessary combo of vulgar pointedness methodically labor’d and heavenly excess flung out in wonder, Irby’s piece toes that line by leaping some celestial miles above it, “petals flying.” What Irby comprehends is what some of the chisel-minimalist epigones of Bunting refuse in their routine small-making to see: how large and boisterous and pealing the man’s ambition (for the poem, and damn the dopes who’d subpoena any other evidentiary proceedings, or prosecute claims for “the life,” all the while meaning “the career”) is. That “vastness only to another recreation beaten”—writing as a mere (I cannot say it with enough contempt) sport (and not a duty and a call)—there’s the ignoble rub . . .

Though, some of the tiniest contributions (tributes, tributaries) gong out resoundingly. Gael Turnbull (who makes an visual echo chamber loud with speech’s lack):
A Last Poem

What was merely unspoken

is now beyond utterance.
Or the marvelous critic Kenneth Cox, who, “refuses to be roused on this occasion, but since Bunting thought him the most astute and insightful of English critics, it seems appropriate to reprint a line printed first in Madeira & Toasts for Basil Bunting’s 75th Birthday (Jargon Society 66, 1977) . . .”:
I praise the man for what he did not do.
Or Alan Halsey’s highly pressurized sonic boomlet, pack’d with reverb and pun:
An Epitaph

fells’ scant
return, to descend
in descant.
Too, there’s artist and print-maker John Furnival’s perfectly poised collage:
Basil Leaves

1   “Il est originaire de l‘Iran et de ‘l’Afghanistan et appartient à un genre tropical d’environ 150 espèces.

Varron, dont on a dit qu’il était le plus savant des Romains, a préconisé le Basilic contre l’épilepsie. Pline signalait son action calmante.”

“Les Bienfaits Des Plantes,” René-Pierre Audras, Michel Guedes.

2   “. . . for cheering the spirit and restoring the humours that compose the blood . . . for clearing the brain . . . the qualities of Basil are allies of the body . . .”

3   “. . . now of little or no importance . . .”
—Ministry of Agriculture pamphlet

4   “. . . if a sprig of pounded Basil be left under a stone, it will turn into a scorpion . . .”

5   Among the Fang tribes, the ‘speakers’ chew Basil leaves before playing their role in the ‘palavers,’ to gain inspiration and assurance: for them too it is a ‘tranquillizer.’
And, though clearly an “occasional” piece (meaning, here, rather negligible), because I cannot recall seeing it reprint’d, Ronald Johnson’s “A Flag for Bunting”:
If you study to become a poet, study to be a Basil
Bunting: heckler of the vernacular (to no pay), last
real troubadour along any road you name—knocking
the door, a man of nations. Of all the Moderns he
was the only to wrestle Keats to the mat, nightingale
and all. If Briggflatts seems now keen to us as The
Waste Land
and his Chomei at Toyama illustrated by
Hokusai, he would shrug that off as small potatoes,
a ruse of time. If we stayed heir, year by year, to
such lines as “I am agog for foam. Tumultuous come
/ with teeming sweetness to the bitter shore” . . .
no more. Study to be printed a ghost, those who hear
the Muses’ Siren song. There, Basil walks the wave.
Seeing that “keen” in the Johnson trigger’d how somebody (in another poem) mortar’d-in a quoted “Keen brevity”—a lovely phrase, and apt—so I fiddle about trying to find its source. And though one George Payne Rainsford James used it (“After asking several questions, to which the boy replied with the keen brevity which he had learned in scenes of haste and danger, and with a degree of irreverent boldness, to which Lord Masterton was not very much accustomed, my father demanded, ‘Well, little Ball-o’-fire, are you of gentle birth?’”) in the 1832 Henry Masterton; or, The Adventures of a Young Cavalier, and Charles Reade, too, in Griffith Gaunt; Jealousy (1866), rather fittingly—“She had found out how badly people plead their own causes, and had noticed the reasons; one of which is that they say too much, and stray from the point. The line she took, with one exception, was keen brevity”—there’s, curiously, no hint of Bunting’s scooping it up off the stony path for use. Nor of any of Bunting’s criticules.

John Furnival with Jonathan Williams, “Wallpaper for a Classical Passion-Pit Atop Mount Parnassus”

John Furnival, “Woful Dane Bottom,” c. 1994
The lines, slightly alter’d out of
Finnegans Wake, read:
—This stow on the wold, is it Woful Dane Bottom?
It is woful in need whatever about anything or allselse under
the grianblachk sun of gan greyne Eireann.