At the Barriers: on the Poetry of Thom Gunn by Joshua Weiner

By Joshua Weiner

Maverick homosexual poetic icon Thom Gunn (1929–2004) and his physique of labor have lengthy dared the British and American poetry establishments either to claim or disavow him. To critics within the united kingdom and US alike, Gunn confirmed that formal poetry may perhaps effectively contain new speech rhythms and open varieties and that experimental kinds may nonetheless preserve technical and highbrow rigor. alongside the way in which, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the Sixties, the existential probabilities of the overdue 20th century, and the tumult of post-Stonewall homosexual culture.            the 1st book-length learn of this significant poet, on the boundaries surveys Gunn’s profession from his formative years in Nineteen Thirties Britain to his ultimate years in California, from his earliest guides to his later unpublished notebooks, bringing jointly probably the most very important poet-critics from each side of the Atlantic to evaluate his oeuvre. This landmark quantity lines how Gunn, in either his existence and his writings, driven at obstacles of alternative types, be they geographic, sexual, or poetic. on the obstacles will solidify Gunn’s rightful position within the pantheon of Anglo-American letters.      

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The abrasions of Fighting Terms then can be seen as occasions for self-invention rather than social comment. But they are something else as well. It is common to cite the influence of F. R. Leavis on Gunn and therefore on Fighting Terms. Certainly, Leavis was a profoundly influential teacher at Cambridge in the years when Gunn was there. But the poems in this book struggle free of influence and nationhood in subtle ways. They are studies in tonal resistance. And if, in poems like “Lofty in the Palais de Danse,” Gunn looks back to the struggles of a recent past, the poems are also plainly pointing toward the new arrangements of voice and cadence in the postlyrical poem.

In his autobiographical writings, Gunn speaks of an ecstatic, life-changing experience he calls “the Revelation,” which occurred to him during a trip to France when he was an undergraduate: “And one day, hitch-hiking along a road in France, I experienced a revelation of physical and spiritual freedom that I still refer to in my thoughts as the Revelation. It was like the elimination of some enormous but undefined problem that had been across my way and prevented me from moving forward. ” 2 That “the Revelation” took place in France does not seem accidental.

S. ’ ” 32 I’m sure Fraser is right—that echo of Coleridge will remind us that English Romantic poetry is second only to English Renaissance poetry in its formative influence on Gunn—but I think he misses the allusion that informs the entire poem, the echo of a great Elizabethan sonnet, on which Gunn wrote in some detail33 and which clearly haunted him for many years: With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies; How silently, and with how wan a face. What, may it be that even in heav’nly place That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

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