216. Briggsflatts: Basil Bunting

Why, no, that is not a made up name.

Remember Dire Straits?  “Walk of Life”?  “Money for Nothing”?  Great band with a lot more going on than those two hits (but they are great songs).  Mark Knopfler, the founder and guitarist of the band, knew Basil Bunting.  The not-yet-frontman was working in a newspaper while Bunting was trying to make a living.  He tells Ian Robson:

He said: “When I was 15, I was a copy boy on the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle, it was a Saturday afternoon job that I had.

“I’d go in to the newspaper office, and you’d deal with all the sports copy coming in, and you’d be putting them in tubes, down to the printer’s, or going over to the subs’ desk.

“There was a chap work-work ing there who was very dif-different from the others. He was grumpy and he was older, and differently dressed, and I learned that that was Basil Bunting.

“It was very clear that he’d rather be writing poetry than writing copy for the Evening Chronicle, and he didn’t really fit.

There are different ways to go with this poem, but I suggest using it to look at your town.

Students need to look at what is in front of them.  They need to write about what is in front of them.  Too often, we encourage kids to write fiction when they have no ability to ground it in reality.  Good fiction has a foundation.  It is tethered.  Even in fantasy, the world is real.  How can you have a dragon lay siege to a castle if you cannot tell me about the castle’s construction?  How many towers?  Defenses?  The great writers know about castles.  Really know about castles.  Then, they create dragons that breathe.  Only then do those dragons attack.

Where do your students live?  As we fill them with ideas of colleges and far off lands, let them know where they come from.  What is before them.  This is the time when they are developmentally ready to understand their siblings and parents and community.  How do people make a living?

Why do they work?  Hopes and dreams?  Take a moment.

How does Bunting capture Briggsflatts?  Tools and sounds and purpose.  This is a town that works.

But it is also a town that is lyrical in nature and metaphor and sound. Stray one way (realism) or another (fantasy) and you lose the truth.

Bunting is writing an epic.  Only one stanza of it is here (to focus on the work).  Have your class each write a stanza.  Capture a snapshot of your community, and string it together.  Make it real and magical and real again. Have them tweak their styles to match each other.  To steal from the best in the group.  To mimic and through that understand their own individual voice–while still part of the community.  The community of your town.  Of the class.  Of poets and writers.

from Briggflatts
Basil Bunting

A mason times his mallet
to a lark’s twitter,
listening while the marble rests,
lays his rule
at a letter’s edge,
fingertips checking,
till the stone spells a name
naming none,
a man abolished.
Painful lark, labouring to rise!
The solemn mallet says:
In the grave’s slot
he lies. We rot.


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