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 proven that formal poetry may possibly effectively comprise new speech rhythms and open varieties and that experimental types may well nonetheless preserve technical and highbrow rigor. alongside the way in which, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the Nineteen Sixties, the existential chances of the overdue 20th century, and the tumult of post-Stonewall homosexual culture. the 1st book-length learn of this significant poet, on the obstacles surveys Gunn’s occupation from his adolescence in Nineteen Thirties Britain to his ultimate years in California, from his earliest guides to his later unpublished notebooks, bringing jointly the most vital poet-critics from each side of the Atlantic to evaluate his oeuvre. This landmark quantity strains how Gunn, in either his existence and his writings, driven at barriers of alternative forms, be they geographic, sexual, or poetic. on the limitations will solidify Gunn’s rightful position within the pantheon of Anglo-American letters.
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Extra resources for At the Barriers: on the Poetry of Thom Gunn
The National Serviceman who gives his name to “Lofty in the Palais de Danse” is an altogether simpler creature whose lumpen demotic explains Gunn’s preference at this time for classical or literary contexts: You praise my strength. The muscle on my arm. Yes. Now the other. Yes, about the same. I’ve got another muscle you can feel. Dare say you knew. 20 I dare say we knew too, but in retrospect we can see that these lines aren’t just ludicrously crass: they are also wrongly gendered. In other words, while “I’ve got another muscle you can feel” is a terrible and improbable chat-up line for a 1950s boy to try on a 1950s girl, it becomes far more probable (if not much less terrible) if spoken between two gay men.
Do they above love to be loved, and yet Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess? 34 Philip Sidney addresses the moon directly and asks it a number of increasingly urgent questions, whereas Gunn’s speaker meditates upon the moon, but the tone is unmistakably similar: so much so that the Gunn poem, which seems a little strained at ﬁrst glance, reads much more naturally after the Sidney. ” For Sidney, the questioning form admits the slender possibility of a world in which love doesn’t inescapably lead to unhappiness; for Gunn, love is by deﬁnition hellish, because it is possessive, and the vision of the moon offers only conﬁrmation, not consolation.
But in subsequent books, Gunn begins moving toward informal diction, less exacting meter, and a preference for daily experience as opposed to literary allusion. I believe it’s also true that his use of existentialism began to recede in importance for him, in part because Sartre’s prestige began to decline around 1960.