Buddhist takes first place in Bunting poetry award

by David Whetstone, The Journal, Dec 14 2009

London, UK -- A LONDON-BASED Buddhist has won the inaugural Basil Bunting Poetry Award, launched to commemorate a Northumberland poet worthy of wider recognition.

Dh Maitreyabandhu attended the awards ceremony at the Culture Lab, Newcastle University, to receive the £1,000 prize and to read from his winning poem, The Coat Cupboard.

The judges – poets Sean O’Brien, Linda France and Paul Batchelor – praised the poem for avoiding “the pitfalls of sentimentality and nostalgia”.

Dh Maitreyabandhu is a member of the London Buddhist Centre and, as well as being a poet, runs courses in “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy”, aimed at combating depression.

The £500 second prize was won by Northumberland poet Peter Bennet, who co-edits the literary magazine Other Poetry, for The Tower.

“This is an immensely skilful recreation of a world where ballad, medieval romance and ritual obsession meet in what might be an illustration on a tarot card,” said the judges.

“The tone is elusive – witty, grim, resigned, scholarly and, in some way, dutiful.”

The £250 third prize went to Lancashire poet Jane Routh for an entry called A Lewis Chesspiece, Her Grievance. It visits, according to the judges, “a strange and sharply-evoked world”.

Highly commended were Gareth Prior, from Oxford, Patrick Daly, from San Francisco, and Mike Barlow, also from Lancashire.

The competition was set up by Basil Bunting’s son-in-law, retired solicitor Dr John Halliday, of Anick, Northumberland, to honour the poet whose epic work, Briggflatts, is celebrated as a modernist masterpiece.

“I wanted to build something that is a fitting memorial to a great poet,” he said. “The fact that he was my father-in-law is, in a sense, by the by. I think he deserves recognition.”

Basil Bunting had a fascinating life. He was born in Newcastle in 1900, was a conscientious objector in the First World War – in line with his Quaker beliefs – but served in British Intelligence during the Second. He died in 1985.

Reputedly he wrote Briggflatts on his train journeys home to the Tyne Valley while employed on this newspaper in the late 50s and 60s.