The Writers of Wales Database

BANTOCK, GAVIN

Poet, Dramatist, Director of Drama, Novelist, Essayist & Educator, Gavin Bantock was born on 4 July, 1939 in Barnt Green, near Birmingham. He moved to Wales almost immediately, living there for four years, and thereafter making biannual extended visits to Wales for the next thirty years. He graduated from New College, Oxford in 1963. In 1969 he moved to Japan and became a university professor and has lived there ever since.

Gavin has published more than ten collections of verse and verse translations, as well as one novel, with another shortly to appear. Has written and directed numerous full-length and short English-language dramas in Japan, and directed nearly 200 stage productions in Japan, covering a very wide range from classical Greek tragedy, Shakespeare (34 plays) to Pinter and Beckett.

As a poet, he was Joint-Winner of the 1964 Richard Hillary Award (Oxford) for his epic poem 'Christ' (Donald Parsons, 1966), which also won the Alice Hunt-Barlett Award in 1966. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1969. Further prizes followed: Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition (1998), Cardiff International Poetry Competition (1999), and several other minor awards. He was short-listed in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition in 2010.

He has published a number of both shorter and longer poems, notably Hiroshima (1966), Juggernaut (Anvil, 1968), A New Thing Breathing (including the long poem Person) (Anvil, 1969), Anhaga (Translations from Anglo-Saxon verse) (Anvil, 1972), Eirenikon (Anvil, 1972), Gleeman (1972), Isles (Excerpts from Christ) (1974), and Dragons (Anvil, 1980), Just Think of It (Anvil, 2002), Floating World (2002), SeaManShip (Anvil, 2003). His poems have appeared in The Spectator, the Poetry Review, Ambit, New Measure (Oxford), Second Aeon (Wales), Orbis (Yorkshire), The New Welsh Review, Acumen and many other magazines.

Gavin's poetry deals mainly with the predicament of man in the modern world and reveals his deep love of and sympathy for his fellow men. His uses of language and sound are strikingly original, as is his imagery, which is often provocative and outlandish. His single strongest poetic inspiration, he says, is the sea; his poetry makes frequent use of sea images, and we can hear the sounds of surf and the cries of seagulls in some of his best writing. He greatly admires the work of such poets as early Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes, as well as that of romantics such as Whitman, Poe, Keats and Shelley. He has also been strongly influenced by the bold colours, rhythms and emotions of Anglo-Saxon verse.

Having lived in Japan since 1969, he has absorbed much of the delicate flavour of oriental art. With his wife Kyoko, he has published translations of the best-selling poems and essays of the paraplegic poet and painter Tomihiro Hoshino—Journey of the Wind (1988) and Road of the Tinkling Bell (1990). These translations have been reprinted in Japan sixteen times so far. In September, 1994, GB read excerpts of Hoshino's work in the Carnegie Hall, New York. He attended the 16th World Congress of Poets in Maebashi, Japan, in August 1996, as a workshop speaker ("Poetry in the Hi-Tech Age") and as a reciter. He published a critical work—Pioneers of English Poetry (Kinseido, Tokyo) in 1980, and has also published some dozen books of essays on a wide variety of subjects (as university textbooks).
 

Reviews:
"…This is certainly the most important poem by a young poet to appear for a number of years… He is, if you like, something of a barbarian, arrogant, a mad visionary. But these are qualities we can do with… Above all, he writes like a dedicated poet. I cannot conceive that he will stop writing or grow tame."
John Heath-Stubbs

"…[Gavin Bantock] is not afraid to think big, to stick out his neck, and to write of man's fragile vanity."
Kevin Crossley-Holland

"…I am considerably impressed…he is undeniably a notable poet"
Sir Maurice Bowra
 
"…He communicates energy: his poems have compelling mythopoeic unity, yet they never seem to be ends-in-themselves."
Tribune

"…Big poems are rare; when a man is big enough to write one, we should be big enough to print it."
Nevill Coghill (then Editor of Poetry Review)


Selected Publications
Christ: A Poem in Twenty Six Parts (Donald Parsons, 1965)
A New Thing Breathing (Anvil Press Poetry, 1969)
Anhaga: Six Anglo-Saxon Poems (Anvil Press Poetry, 1972)
Eirenikon (Anvil Press Poetry, 1972)
Gleeman & Juggernaut: Two Poetry Pamphlets (Second Aeon, 1973)
Dragons (Anvil Press Poetry, 1979)
Just Think of It (Anvil Press Poetry, 2002)
SeaManShip (Anvil Press Poetry, 2003)
The Old Woman of the Sea (Machinami Tsushinsha, Japan, 2011)

Contributed to
23 Modern British Poets (U.S.A., 1971) (Contributor)
The Oxford Book of 20th Century English Verse (1973) (Contributor)
The Faber Book of 20th Century Verse (1975) (Contributor)
The P.E.N. Anthology of Poetry (1966-67), (Contributor)
The Spaces of Hope (Anvil, 1998) (Contributor)
The Sea! The Sea! (Anvil, 2005) (Contributor)

 

Hiroshima & Ichor, Two Long Poems published in Magazines

Hiroshima appeared in New Measure 3, Summer, 1966. It touches upon ‘a subject permanently in the minds of men – the possibility of total destruction, accidental or designed, by a nuclear catclysm. It insists on no certainties and raises no false hopes. Hiroshima is the name given to this overwhelming deity, whom we must perforce worship, fear or hate, as though it were God.’

 

 

 

Ichor appeared in The Poetry Review, Winter, 1966/67. Of it Neville Coghill, then President of the Poetry Society, wrote: ‘The poem is a strange work, terrible and touching, and its moments of agony and rage are consoled by others of serenity and humbleness.; through it all, even in the passages of terror, pain, anger, hatred, blasphemy, and revulsion there is audible a pedal-point of human love, and so the inferno ascends to glimpses of a paradiso.’ 
 

 

 

Christ: A Poem in Twenty Six Parts (Donald Parsons, 1965)
Out of print, but copies available from the author

This is Gavin Bantock’s first published work, an epic poem in twenty-six parts, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, and it won two poetry awards: The Richard Hillary Award, 1964, and the Alice Hunt-Bartlett Award, 1966. Christ is an archetypal portrait of a man fighting for self-perfection, which he achieves through love and suffering. It is a poem which makes use of a considerable variety of techniques, including most of the forms associated with English poetry...The tragic and intensely personal struggle of a man fighting against tradition and finally deserted by God, a man with qualities common to men throughout civilization.
 

 

A New Thing Breathing (Anvil Press Poetry, 1969)
Out of print, but new copies available from the author

This is Gavin Bantock’s first Anvil collection, which includes ‘what we consider to be the finest of [his longer] poems, Person, a sustained and moving exploration of the nature of human identity and suffering; together with eleven short poems displaying a sure technique which is sensitive to a range of ideas and experience.’
 

 

 

 
 

Eirenikon (Anvil Press Poetry, 1972)

Gavin Bantock’s challenging new poem is written in the form of an Euclidean theorem. It sets forth a proposition, often in a sharply satirical and polemic vein, for world peace. Mr Bantock is ‘not afraid to think big, to stick out his neck, and to write of man’s fragile vanity’, as Kevin Crossley-Holland wrote of Juggernaut. In Eirenikon his account of mankind’s pollution both of the world and himself, is violent and disturbing; but it is finally a humanistic poem written for love of man – with vigour, humour, irony and a striking originality of style and method.
 

 

Anhaga: Six Anglo-Saxon Poems (Anvil Press Poetry, 1972), translated by Gavin Bantock
Out of print, but new copies available from the author

These are strikingly evocative renderings into modern English of six of the shorter Anglo-Saxon poems, including The Seafarer and The Wanderer. These versions were made during 1963 - 1969.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Gleeman & Juggernaut: Two Poetry Pamphlets (Second Aeon, 1973)

Gleeman is a short collection of poems on bardic themes with echoes of the Celtic and Cambrian world.
Out of print, but copies available from the author

 

 

 

 

Juggernaut is a long poem condemning materialism, using the Hindu Lord of the World, Jagannatha, in its modern form Juggernaut, of which the metaphorical meaning is something, as an idea, custom, fashion, requirement, etc. to which one either devotes oneself or is blindly sacrificed.
Out of print, but copies available from the author.

 

 

 

 

Dragons (Anvil Press Poetry, 1979)
Dragons contains Gavin Bantock’s poems since the publication of Eirenikon (1972), together with a selection of his previously uncollected earlier poems. His new work – a series of gothic portraits from life, the fantasy-like sequence Dragon World and, most recently, two narrative poems on Zen themes – is richly varied and confirms Bantock as one of the most striking voices in contemporary poetry.

 

Just Think of It (Anvil Press Poetry, 2002)

In Just Think of It, his first collection for over twenty years, Gavin Bantock proves that he has not grown tame. His many years in Japan have enriched his perspective when writing about life in Britain; he is also an acute observer of Japanese life from an Englishman’s point of view. In his verse the clarity and simplicity of Japanese art combine with vivid (and often provocative and outlandish) imagery, as he writes with wit and precision on such subjects as the king crab, the speed of thought, and the proper place to read poetry: the lavatory.

 

 

 

SeaManShip (Anvil Press Poetry, 2003)

SeaManShip is an extraordinary and challenging poem. The ‘Sea’ of the title is a symbol of the natural world, ‘Man’ represents human feelings and intellect, and ‘Ship’ signifies the artificial or man-created. By turns rhapsodic and incantatory, the poem is loosely based on the structure of a computer manual. The author writes of it that ‘SeaManShip charts the struggles of a man, perhaps an overly romantic one, forced to face reality and come to terms with the chaos and confusions of the modern world.’