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 proven that formal poetry may possibly effectively contain new speech rhythms and open varieties and that experimental kinds might nonetheless preserve technical and highbrow rigor. alongside the way in which, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the Sixties, the existential chances of the past due 20th century, and the tumult of post-Stonewall homosexual culture.            the 1st book-length research of this significant poet, on the obstacles surveys Gunn’s profession from his early life in Thirties Britain to his ultimate years in California, from his earliest courses to his later unpublished notebooks, bringing jointly the most very important poet-critics from either side of the Atlantic to evaluate his oeuvre. This landmark quantity lines how Gunn, in either his existence and his writings, driven at limitations of alternative types, 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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Additional info for At the Barriers: on the Poetry of Thom Gunn

Sample text

Cambridge in the Fifties” mentions that John Holmstrom, one of the friends accompanying Gunn on his second trip to Paris, acquired several Jean Genet novels and smuggled them into England. ) In the essay Gunn doesn’t say whether he read these novels or not. Nor does he speak of the study Saint Genet, comédien et martyr (Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr) that Sartre published in 1952. No English translation of the book appeared before 1963, but of course Gunn could read French, and the book was in any case widely reviewed and discussed when it first came out.

Far more important is an unseen permission for swashbuckling, for costume drama and posturing, that Gunn had learned elsewhere. If England was grim realism, the poems in Fighting Terms are often the very opposite. They are colorful theatricals on a rainy afternoon—an implied critique of what the climate invited. In many ways, however, the poems of Fighting Terms are also a veiled inventory of loss. Certainly, the public elegy is missing; the private restiveness is uppermost. It would be decades before Gunn reinvented public grief in The Man with Night Sweats.

3 The key imagery of Gunn’s first three collections repeatedly alludes to the homosexual iconography of the 1950s, and its power is immeasurably increased by being strapped into tight verse forms. The biker 20 / Neil Powell would become an especially potent symbol for him: the combined erotic charge of man, machine, and leather, with auxiliaries such as the tattoos of “Black Jackets” (and their important subtext of painful ritual), is inextricably linked to a pursuit of freedom that is both sexual and existential.

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