The 50th anniversary of Basil Bunting’s famous poem, Briggflatts, is to be marked with a series of weekend events which will see the reopening of Newcastle’s Morden Tower.
Bunting (1900-85) was born in Scotswood, Newcastle, and went on to lead a colourful life.
A Quaker, he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the First World War and then went to London where he encountered the work of poets including Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky.
Later, in France, he met Pound, a major figure in the modernist movement.
During the Second World War Bunting served in Military Intelligence in Persia (now Iran).
Afterwards, back in his native North East, he earned a living working for The Journal and Evening Chronicle while writing poetry on his train journeys to and from home in the Tyne Valley.
Eventually his poetry was discovered by young poets including Tom Pickard.
In 1966 Briggflatts was published. Named after a Quaker meeting house in Cumbria, the poem is now celebrated as a modernist masterpiece.
In the 1960s, after the ancient Morden Tower on Newcastle’s City Wall had been pressed into service as a venue by Tom and wife Connie, Bunting read there with the American beat poet, Allen Ginsberg.
The 50th anniversary programme has been put together by Bunting enthusiasts including Alex Niven, who is editing the poet’s letters, historian Bill Lancaster and Tom Pickard.
It will take place on June 24 and 25, beginning on the Friday evening with an anniversary reading of Briggflatts at the Morden Tower.
Bill Lancaster said American poet August Kleinzahler, a distinguished former student of Bunting, would start the reading which would be shared with Tom Pickard, Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah and students.
At 10.30am on June 25, there will be a walking tour of Bunting’s Newcastle led by a city guide. Then, in the afternoon, Bill Lancaster, in a celebration of the City Walls, will talk to Yale University historian Keith Wrightson, who is from County Durham, about the notorious plague year of 1636 when the city lost half its population.
Finally a tribute concert will take place at the Mining Institute featuring readings and folk music performances in honour of Bunting’s love of music.
Keep an eye on Facebook (Briggflatts: 50) for further details. And also look out for Morden Tower developments.
Plans are afoot to bring it back into regular use. “It is one of the most internationally significant cultural venues in Newcastle,” says Bill Lancaster.