Basil Bunting, one of the greatest modernist poets, had an
extraordinary life. Born in the mining village of Scotswood in
Tyneside in 1900, after a largely Quaker education, during which at
the age of 13 he met the love of his life, he left school in 1918
and went straight to prison as a conscientious objector. In Paris
in the early 1920s after working as an artist's model and road
mender he was rescued from another spell in prison by Ezra Pound
and Ford Madox Ford and became Ford's assistant on the pioneering
modernist magazine, the Transatlantic Review.
Excluded from France he found himself with Pound and W. B. Yeats in
Rapallo on the Italian Riviera where he worked on sand boats and
wrote the poems that formed the backbone of Pound's influential
Active Anthology. Bunting spent the first part of the 1930s in the
Canary Islands but fled to London with his young family at the
outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. After his newly pregnant wife
left him and took their two children to the US he lived on a boat
on the south coast of England, trained as a seaman and captained
yachts in America.
During the Second World War his knowledge of classical Persian
earned him a job as a translator in Iraq, after which he served as
a spy in the region culminating in his promotion to Vice Consul in
Isfahan. Compelled to leave the embassy because of his remarriage
to a local woman, he became Middle East correspondent for the Times
until he was thrown out of Iran by Mossadeq in 1953. A barren
period followed until his poetic masterpiece, Briggflatts, caught
the literary world's attention in 1965.
Literary fame brought Bunting no relief from grinding poverty and
he died at the age of 85, impoverished but with a lasting poetic
legacy. Underneath this captivating tale of action, adventure and
lasting friendships with some of the greatest writers of the 20th
century (Yeats, Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Louis
Zukofsky and many more) lies one of the greatest love stories of
the twentieth century.
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