Bantock, Gavin (Marcus August)
BANTOCK, Gavin (Marcus August)
Nationality: British. Born: Barnt Green, near Birmingham, Warwickshire, 4 July 1939. Education: King's Norton Grammar School; New College, Oxford, M.A. (honors) in English language and literature 1964. Family: Married Kyoko Oshima in 1976. Career: Head of English department in various private secondary schools in England; professor of English, Reitaku University, Kashiwa-shi, Chiba-ken, Japan, 1969–94. Since 1994 living in the mountains of western Japan, devoting his time to writing and oil painting and directing English dramas with local people. Awards: Richard Hillary memorial prize, 1964; Alice Hunt Bartlett prize, 1966; Eric Gregory award, 1969. Agent: Peter Jay, 69 King George Street, London SE10 8PX, England.
Christ: A Poem in Twenty-Six Parts. Oxford, Donald Parsons, 1965.
Juggernaut. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1968.
A New Thing Breathing. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1969.
Anhaga. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1970.
Gleeman. Cardiff, Second Aeon, 1972.
Eirenikon. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1972.
Isles. Feltham, Middlesex, Quarto Press, 1974.
Dragons. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1979.
The Last of the Kings: Frederick the Great (produced Edinburgh, 1969).
Blue Tunnel Gateway, A Zen Drama (produced Tokyo, 1982).
Russian Bed Chamber (The Making of Catherine the Great) (produced Tokyo, 1991).
Land of the Setting Sun. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1973.
Disunited Kingdom. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1974.
Twenty Eggs in One Basket. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1975.
Nobler in the Mind. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1976.
Pioneers of English Poetry. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1979.
Dramatic Tales from the Bible. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1981.
Aspects of England. Tokyo, Seibido, 1983.
Towards Humanity. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1985.
English People, English Opinions. Tokyo, Seibido, 1986.
Battling with Words. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1988.
Other People, Other Places. Tokyo, Seibido, 1989.
Towards Wisdom. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1989.
Asking and Answering. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1993.
Translator, with Kyoko Oshima, Journey of the Wind, by Tomihiro Hoshino. Tokyo, Rippu Shobo, 1988.
Translator, Road of the Tinkling Bell, by Tomihiro Hoshino. Tokyo, Kaiseisha, 1990.*
Gavin Bantock comments:
Themes and subjects: In Christ—Jesus as a man suffering human emotions and human love—a tragic, yet optimistic interpretation of the Gospel Christ.
In middle-length poems, "Hiroshima," "Juggernaut," "Ichor," and "Person"—examination of the human predicament in a world of intense suffering where there is no God, except violence and destruction, and where life is lived only in the present with no possible planned future. Condemnation of narrow-minded and blindly orthodox people.
Eirenikon is an attack on all those crying for peace and on this rotten Western, capitalistic society—of which the U.S.A. is the chief culprit. Most evils of modern society originate in the U.S.A.
Dragons is a collection of poems, some with Japanese background, emphasizing the unknown behind the known, deepening one's concepts of seemingly ordinary things.
Verse forms, etc.: Usually disciplined free verse based on somewhat elevated speech rhythms; perhaps too much rhetorical usage; trying to eliminate this. (Much early practice in iambic English verse forms.)
Main sources and influences: Anglo-Saxon (I have made numerous translations), the Bible, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes. Other strong interests: Beethoven, Einstein, astronomy, dictators, pipe organs, Japanese archery, gardening, Shakespeare production.
My chief aims are to expose the shortcomings of people who live narrow lives, who are unconscious of the strength of simplicity and of the practical wisdom of the much damned attitude of loving kindness. My attitude to such people is ruthless when they will not listen and sympathetic when they cannot listen. I have great admiration for people with strong wills and powers of endurance; I despise idleness and escapism and irresponsible action in human affairs.
Artistically, I hope to help maintain modern poetry steady in strength and efficiency of words used, in logical forms and order, and in importance of subject. Too much poetry today is formless, trivial, arbitrary, small-minded and does not make use of words or images designed to develop the language; too much of the language of modern poetry is dead and dull.
I believe writing poetry is a skilled craft and must be learned. Too many people write lines of verse without ever making poetry or make "poetic" utterances without knowing a thing about versification.
I am trying to make a distinction between the versifying of hippies and layabouts and the making of good poetry by dedicated poets. The public seem to be confused about the values of both.
(1995) Now working on a long autobiographical poem called "Seamanship," utilizing the three elements of the title; plans for novels set in England or Japan; an opera libretto with a Zen theme; and plans for full-length dramas on Alexander the Great and Edward III.* * *
"A bard of the old world living beyond his era"—this quotation from his own poem "Seer" might not unfairly be applied to Gavin Bantock himself. The man as revealed in his writings seems totally out of sympathy with the present-day world he inhabits, rejecting our money-dominated society, in which happiness is translated as the accumulation of consumer goods, in favor of a return to older and more austere virtues. His long work Eirenikon, in particular, betrays a bitter hatred of all things American, at times becoming a diatribe against the plastic transatlantic pseudoculture that spreads itself like an alien growth over so much of the world. Bantock turns his back on what he regards as a false set of values that have placed arbitrary limits on human growth, seeking his answers in ancient, neglected forms and value systems. Like Kevin Crossley-Holland, he has a keen interest in Old English poetry—Anhaga contains many translations from original Saxon writings—and his moral worldview owes much to biblical and Dark Age beliefs. In common with the early English masters, Bantock respects the disciplined ordering of words, regarding poetry as a hard-learned craft whose practice serves further to develop the language and its meaning. There is no room in his scheme of things for those modern poets who rely on a spontaneous outpouring of thoughts and images. Triviality, and its embodiment in the Americanized contemporary lifestyle, is anathema to him and is ruthlessly condemned in a number of his poems.
Basically moralistic in outlook, Bantock frequently writes on a heroic scale—his epic poem Christ is an example—where the combination of a preaching tone and the packed solidity of his lines sometimes daunt the reader by their sheer length and weight. Occasionally one feels that the poet is not unduly concerned whether or not his message is understood by the mass of his fellows. He is intent upon mining the potential of his own poetic experience, and human-kind tends to come second best. Certainly such works as Gleeman and A New Thing Breathing present him as a latter-day wandering minstrel, traveling the world from one hall to the next, unsure of his reception but compelled by inner force to sing whatever the response. The central figure of his poems has the same love of wild, uninhabited places as Crossley-Holland shows in his writings, seeking out the bleak terrain of mountains or coasts where high seas break on the edge of the land. Bantock, it appears, communes most easily with the elements, finding hard, uncompromising truths in a wilderness bare of all other life: "my voice alone shattered the clear air / my breath alone clouded the ringing pinnacles / And no man heard me / so far was I removed from the world of men."
In place of our current gospel, which despoils the earth in pursuit of money, power, and possessions, Bantock offers the ideals of self-knowledge and loving kindness. These are worthy aims, but one feels that they are presented in a singularly aggressive manner. Bantock's writing has a rugged force and an often bitter edge that sits ill with most Sunday school Christians, having more in common with the Old Testament and the Saxon blood feud. From his Old English models he has refined his language to a strong, honed style that cuts and shapes his poems, the simplicity of utterance serving to emphasize the depths beneath. It is often in his simplest work that Bantock is most effective, as in this account of the poet's craft: "I have ways of singing worked for every deed / that has in it song somewhere / and every deed has." His writing echoes his Saxon forebears in its frequent use of alliteration and its word juggling and wrestling with language. Images persist of the journeying singer, exiled and weeping at the sea's edge, returning to find the hall empty and only the ghost of a song to answer him. Dominating much of his verse is the sea itself, seen as a force for creation and growth, accepted despite its cruelty and destructive power as an integral part of the poet himself, the source of his being. To this, a recurring symbol of his beloved wilderness, Bantock returns continually to renew his own strength and creativity: "O my music-maker when can I be with you again / and become even from the most sunless places / as a new thing breathing on the shining face of the world."