Publishing Basil Bunting’s “Chomei at Toyama”

The Special Collections Research Center holds three archival collections that document the modernist Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting’s attempts to publish his early long poem, "Chomei at Toyama."

On January 21, 1932, Bunting mailed a letter to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, expressing apprehensions about his recently submitted article "English Poetry Today" (Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Volume 39, January 1932). In this piece, Bunting commented ambiguously, somewhat critically on T.S. Eliot. He also, by way of an aside, recommended "a man called Becket" [sic] as a promising young poet to solicit for work (Samuel Beckett’s first, slim book of poems, Whoroscope, appeared in 1930). At this time, Bunting was living in Rapallo, Italy, and writing under the influence of resident expatriate Ezra Pound.

As a postscript to the letter, Bunting acknowledged that he enclosed a batch of poems meant for submission to the magazine: "The material is from the HO JO KI… I have condensed about half of it into verse…."

Thus begins Bunting’s efforts at publishing his work in progress, "Chomei at Toyama," a verse translation and distillation of the13th century Japanese prose work Hojoki of Kama no Chomei.

For over a year, Bunting continued to haggle with Poetry about placing the poem. In the meantime, he also sent the poem to James Leippert, later known as Ronald Lane Latimer, publisher of the magazine Lion and Crown. “Copies of Chomei are in the hands of [William] Carlos Williams, whose magazine, I daresay, will expire before he gets round to printing it,” wrote Bunting to Poetry staffer Morton Dauwen Zabel, “and [in the hands] of Leippert, editor of the new Lion and Crown (why the public-house name?) who probably will print it; and I will get no dollars from him if he does.”

Bunting made it clear to Leippert in a letter of January 4, 1933, that he needed cash and that Poetry would pay it. “Arriet [sic] Monroe, it now transpires, is thinking of publishing parts of my ‘Chomei.’ She pays: and there are also prizes: so it is better for me that she should do it than you.”

Buntingextract1
[Click to enlarge: From a letter from Bunting to Morton Dauwen Zabel, January 4, 1933, from the Morton Dauwen Zabel Papers]

In the course of corresponding, Bunting made comments on his work, on Pound's lifestyle and influence, and on the work of other poets.

On March 24, 1933, Bunting at last conceded to Morton Dauwen Zabel’s suggestions to publish the poem in shortened, edited form. The version appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Volume 42, September 1933.

Chomei
[Click to enlarge: Typescript of "Chomei at Toyama" (undated) with editor's markings from the Morton Dauwen Zabel Papers]

The Basil Bunting correspondence and poetry typescripts are found in the Poetry: A Magazine of Verse Records, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Papers, and the Ronald Lane Latimer Papers.

The poem itself can be read at the Poetry Foundation website: Chomei at Toyama.

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