Of course, this biography has been written because in 1965 Bunting published “Briggflatts”, considered one of the greatest poems of the century. Brigflatts (he added the extra g to his title to make it sound more archaic) is a tiny hamlet in Cumbria. For several years in his teens Bunting would spend a few weeks there each summer with the Greenbank family, falling in love with their daughter Peggy, to whom “Briggflatts” is dedicated. Her father, John, worked as a stonemason in the graveyard of the Brigflatts Quaker meeting house. Fifty years on, memories of these visits and of his adolescent passion jolted Bunting back to poetry; the opening section of “Briggflatts” brilliantly recasts Pound’s epic mode to evoke these long-buried experiences. One of the delights of Burton’s book is the chapter devoted to a close reading of the poem’s effects and an exposition of its sources.
Almost as soon as it appeared, “Briggflatts” catapulted Bunting, who’d spent the prior decade working on the financial section of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, to quite astonishing fame: packed readings, tours of America, posts in US and Canadian universities, chairmanship of the Poetry Society and the Northern Arts council. English poetic modernism, at long last, had found a star to steer by.