Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Northern Bard of Sixties Still Inspires; Lee Hall, above, the Writer of Billy Elliot and the Pitmen Painters, Explains His Fascination with Poet Basil Bunting

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Culture: Northern Bard of Sixties Still Inspires; Lee Hall, above, the Writer of Billy Elliot and the Pitmen Painters, Explains His Fascination with Poet Basil Bunting

Article excerpt

I'D heard a lot about the Morden Tower's heyday in the 1980s when I was kicking about Newcastle. I was mostly playing music or doing theatre and didn't realise it was still going. But it wasn't until more recently that I really started reading Basil Bunting.

I stumbled across a Bloodaxe (Books) tape of Bunting reading a few years back and was absolutely mesmerised. I also knew the work of poets he had influenced such as Barry MacSweeney and Tom Pickard and then got curious to follow the connection.

The connection was very close - famously Tom rekindled Basil's passion for writing after many years lying dormant and Barry in fact worked in the same office as Basil when he worked on the Chronicle.

Tom and Barry were Billy Elliots of poetry - both were in their mid-teens when they started writing and publishing. Basil was their mentor and through the Morden Tower readings, when everybody who was anybody came through Newcastle, a whole generation of poets were influenced.

Basil had an extraordinary life and connected Newcastle to the big currents and most important writers of his age. He was friends with Yeats and Ezra Pound, and later the "Beat" poets such as Allen Ginsberg would hang around Newcastle with the Geordies.

But when I started digging, it became clear that poetry was not a marginal thing in the North East at all. The first ever English poem was written in Whitby by a pigherd (!) and many connections between ordinary people and world class poets started appearing.

But Bunting has a special place in my heart. Briggflatts is an extraordinary poem. In it Bunting tells his autobiography but also traces the lineage of poetry in the North back to the Viking Skaldic tradition and the Celtic bards that they went to war with.

It is certainly one of the most powerful English poems of the last 100 years and it was written on the train from Wylam as Bunting came into work in the mornings.

The fact that Bunting was writing this in the company of these young people who swarmed to the tower to hear him read is just too extraordinary a thing to let by and so I have made a radio programme where I trace the whole story for people who don't know about the whole explosion in poetry in the 1960s. …

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