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Under Briggflatts : a history of poetry in Great Britain, 1960-1988
Davie, Donald.
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
261 pages ; 23 cm
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PR611 .D38 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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Under Briggflatts is a history of the last thirty years of British poetry with necessary excursions into other areas: criticism, philosophy, translation, and non-British English poetries. It has grown naturally out of Donald Davie's immediate involvement with new writing as a poet, reviewer, teacher, and reader. He has reassessed the writers who have most engaged his attention, revised his reviews, and supplemented earlier material with much that is new. Under Briggflatts provides a narrative that is remarkable in scope and generous in tone. By combining close readings of specific poems and more general considerations of style, form, and context, Davie's account is characteristically elegant, precise, and uncompromising.

Under Briggflatts is organized in three large chapters, one devoted to each decade. In the 1960s, Davie pays particular attention to the work of Austin Clarke, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman McCaig, Keith Douglas, Edwin Muir, Basil Bunting (the gurus whose prose writings helped catalyze the traumatic events of 1968), Elaine Feinstein, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Philip Larkin, Charles Tomlinson, Thomas Kinsella, and Ted Hughes. The second chapter follows these figures into the new decade and explores the work of (among others) Thom Gunn, C. H. Sisson, R. S. Thomas, John Betjeman, and such themes as women's poetry, translation, poetic theory, and the later impact of T. S. Eliot and of Edward Thomas. Perhaps the most controversial chapter is the third, in which David--without abandoning the poets already introduced--assesses Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison, and Seamus Heaney, and looks too at the recovery of Ivor Gurney's poems, at Ted Hughes as Laureate, the posthumous work of Sylvia Townsend Warner, the burgeoning Hardy industry, and the critical writings of Kenneth Cox.

Author Notes

Donald Davie was at the forefront of the poetic school of the 1950s known as the Movement. The group's aesthetic was characterized by simplicity, in contrast to the extravagant rhetoric and stylistic excesses that they felt marked neoromantic poetic trends. Unlike other Movement poets, though, Davie generally eschews a casual tenor or informal voice, resorting instead to a more traditional prosody and affirming the influence of late Augustan poets.

Davie's most durable contribution to poetic debates of the period was a work of literary criticism called Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952). The laws of poetic syntax, he argues, are as momentous as the laws of human society and should be appreciated equally.

Davie was born in Barnsley, a place that figures gloomily in much of his work. He has taught at universities in both Great Britain and the United States.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Donald Davie is a critic whose catholicity of taste is matched by a passionate and often provocative insistence that the writers he bothers to look at meet the very highest standards of literature. While such rigor is heartening, it does tend to distort the cooler perspectives one expects from an historical survey in which false starts and outright failures often need to be noted. Under Briggflatts is a clearly partisan narrative of poetry in Great Britain from 1960 to 1988. While his insights are always informative, precise, and honest, the book as a whole "seems to promote certain British authors, as however modestly, canonical. . .on the understanding that these judgements are disputable and ought to be disputed." Thus Davie's interest in authors such as Basil Bunting pushes aside any account of such clearly historical developments as the "Martian" poets or the publication of George Barker's collected poems in 1987. Still, Davie never writes a thing that is not impressive in scope, elegant in style, and valuable as a guide to his own remarkable career as a poet. A very good book, for all its self-imposed restraints, for students, faculty, and general readers. -D. A. Barton, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Table of Contents

Part 1 The 1960s
A Religious Dimension MacDiarmid and MacCaig Remembering the Western DesertEdwin Muir and Austin Clarke
Basil Bunting The Gurus Elaine Feinstein 1968 Sylvia Townsend WarnerLarkin's Politics and Tomlinson's Thomas Kinsella
'Ferocious Banter': Clarke and Hughes
Part 2 The 1970s Thom Gunn Elaine Feinstein and Women's Poetry
The Waste LandDrafts and TranscriptsC. H. Sisson's Politics and C. H. Sisson's Poetry and Philip Larkin and John Betjeman and Prosody Bunting
Tomlinson and Hughes Translations and Competitions Poetic TheoryR. S. Thomas and Jack Clemo and Anglo-Welsh
Poets Poets' Prose: Hughes and Hill The Edward Thomas Centenary Thom Gunn
Part 3 The 1980s Sisson's Exactions Ivor Gurney Recovered
The Thomas Hardy Industry Geoffrey HillJeremy Hooker and Tony Harrison
Hughes at Laureate Michael Hamburger Sylvia Townsend Warner
Posthumous Kenneth Cox's Criticism Seamus Heaney's Station Island