Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
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The Star You Steer By: Basil Bunting and British Modernism

Jeffery Beam

  The Star You Steer By: Basil Bunting and British Modernism.
James McGonigal, Richard Price, editor.
Rodopi, 2000.
298 pages, $64 (hardcover).
ISBN: 9042012145

The Star You Steer By adds significantly to Bunting scholarship, examining further his continued rise in reputation, as well as the impact of his "Northern inflection" on British Modernism. Those essays written by fellow poets, and friends of Bunting, Jonathan Williams, Richard Caddell, Harry Gilonis, Gael Turnbull, Roy Fisher, and Harriet Tralo, engage with the kind of subtlety and insider knowledge in which only poets, and friends, can write.

This excellent collection by critics and readers from Britain and America guides the reader into the complexity of Bunting's life and work as well as placing his legacy solidly within the work of his American and British contemporaries such as Zukofksy, Hugh MacDiarmid, Niedecker, and David Jones. Gilonis reviews Bunting's work as a translator of Horace while Parvin Loloi and Glynn Pursglove do the same for his Hafiz. And one can't discuss his translations without talking about his uniquely adventurous early life, or his social and political commentary.

David Annwn's survey of feminist critics of Bunting's work is fascinating, and is a fine companion to Ian Gregson's article on Bunting's own views on masculine priority and sexual mercilessness. I particularly enjoyed Richard Caddel essay on Bunting's recordings. Here Caddell address not only the sound of Bunting reading, but the cadence, structure, and music of his poetry. The volume closes with an intimate selection of letters from Bunting to friend and champion Jonathan Williams.

Philip Hobsbaum's "Beyond the Iambic Norm" traces Bunting's response to Pound's call to give up iambic pentameter—a challenge which Bunting takes even further than Pound could envision. Hobsbaum's close reading of texts reveals the subtle pleasures of reading Bunting. He observes that Bunting's ability to "side-step this pulse with considerable adroitness. True that originality  . . . proved to be expensive in terms of Bunting's representation in anthologies . . . At this point in time, one may doubt whether he was seriously read in his own period. He has come late to supper, but he is likely to sup well." Late to supper, indeed, but reading, and hearing, Bunting is one of poetry's greatest pleasures—and an enduring one.

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