Profile: Thom Gunn | Books | The Guardian
Apr 25, The poem reads 'Their relationship consisted/ In discussing if it existed.' A friend of mine saw it on a bus once and underneath it someone. HOM GUNN gave me a poem for the first issue of The . ered the poetry of Thom Gunn"; his words had simply Their relationship consisted. In discussing if it. Aug 28, “Their relationship consisted in discussing if it existed.” These words of Thom Gunn (August 29, Arpil 25, ) make sense on so many.
Nonetheless, they did so. The incident is described in a poem, "The Gas-poker", which Gunn only felt able to write decades later: They who had been her treasures Knew to turn off the gas, Take the appropriate measures, Telephone the police Gunn says relatively little about this event, which "was obviously a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone's life", but a companion piece preceding "The Gas-poker", "My Mother's Pride", is suggestive of undercurrents.
A collection of his mother's little sayings, it ends simply: I have no complaints about it except that I didn't learn very much other than what I taught myself, though there were some good teachers". So after his mother's death, Gunn partly continued to live in Hampstead, with friends of his mother's, and partly in the country with two of his aunts. Ander went to live with his father in Chelsea.
Karl Miller, a friend of Gunn's at Cambridge, who went on to found the London Review of Books, remarks that "my impression was that Thom didn't get on with his father.
He was a severe grey-headed man, not sympathetic to Thom's choices. He was a businessman, very dry and a little suspicious. Gunn describes his own simply as "drudgery and boredom. We marched around a lot, and eventually I was part of the education corps, so I was teaching soldiers how to read and write so that was kind of interesting What it taught me was how to deal with stupid or ignorant people being in power over me. With National Service, we were all non-soldiers, we were just in for a couple of years.
We weren't going to kill people - we would have been terrified of killing people! So, yes, isn't it interesting how many soldiers there are in my early poetry and how often I am the soldier and I'm not really sure what I'm doing? Not especially romanticised except when I think of Achilles or somebody. So it was a very ambiguous role, but it was a role that apparently I tended to see myself in, especially in that first book.
And I don't think it was that conscious or deliberate. I had to think about it afterwards to find out what could have been in my mind.
Thom Gunn Quotes (Author of Ted Hughes)
One of his friends there was Karl Miller. I'd show him my poems when I wrote them and he'd tack them up over his desk, which was very flattering.
Leavis was sovereign at the time. Gunn was sympathetic to Leavis but not a Leavisite. We were both involved in the same discussions and clubs and so on. I wrote a lengthy profile of him for the student newspaper Varsity. They are startlingly assured pieces, formally controlled, metaphysical, with a subtext that only seems obviously homoerotic in retrospect.
Thom Gunn by Ernest Hilbert
By the time of his second collection, The Sense of Movementpieces celebrating Elvis Presley and black-jacketed bikers join those about soldiers and mythic violence. Around this time, Gunn was often photographed in a tough pose, leather-jacket and fierce stare. Later, being bracketed with Ted Hughes in a very successful joint Selected Poems in enhanced this image as well as bringing Gunn's work to a much wider audience.
Yet beneath the macho iconography come existential arguments - about will, action, self-knowledge and self-fashioning - which continue throughout Gunn's entire corpus.
Running on poetry: Revisiting a Bohemian life
One of the most famous poems from the early work which he rates less these days is "On The Move", which takes its epigraph from The Wild Ones, and describes a group of bikers in existential terms: At worst one is in motion, and at best Reaching no absolute in which to rest, One is always nearer by not staying still. The fierceness of these poems, which Gunn once described, regretfully, as a Sartrean fascistic tone, can also be read in terms of a self striving to define itself against its environment.
There was also a rejection of some other poetic stances: Donald Hall first published him; Faber took him up for his second book. I went to see TS Eliot toward the end of his life, and he said: And he said 'Oh, so, I didn't edit you, but I like your poetry very much', which was very charming of him.
Gunn has been consistently critical of the effect of Movement poetry on later English poetry. I never felt I was part of it. It was a journalistic thing.
There were terrible limitations. Some people, like Amis, it was minor verse, like Punch or something: So many of them were terrible, you didn't want to be associated with them.
Davie was good, and so was Larkin, and Jennings at least was interesting. Gunn had become aware he was gay during his teens, but did not have sex until Cambridge: You don't think of yourself as being sexually desirable until somebody's in love with you. Everyone admires him; he's very wise and sensible, as well as being lively. The poetry and homosexuality progressed in tandem: He wore lumberjack shirts, belts and buckles.
He had a loud laugh, and he laughed a lot. He was liked very much. Although, as Miller points out, "Winters was the Leavis of the US and Thom was initially drawn by the austerity and rational approach," the transatlantic move exposed Gunn to some poetic traditions he had not encountered in England.
I'd read some before: DH Lawrence for instance. But you couldn't write like him without sounding too much like him. He found it difficult: The difficult thing about learning to write free verse is that you have to improvise what you consider to be interesting enough rhythms to exist on their own, and they have to be different for each line. So I think it's easier to write well in metrical poetry, when you can: You have to start all over again when learning to write in a new form.
The first thing you have to learn with reading poetry is to hear it. And a lot of teachers don't bother to say that, I think. The poet Clive Wilmer, whose tutor, Tony Tanner, introduced him to Gunn inand who has been a friend and admirer ever since, points out that several poems Gunn wrote at this time were never published in books, and many from Touch did not make it into his Collected Poems He says Gunn had a "huge uncertainty" about what he was doing as he made the transition into free verse, and that the poems "didn't cohere" into a collection, but by the time Gunn wrote Moly"although it is not in free verse, it evidently benefited from the work he'd been doing.
Thom thinks it's his best book, and I do too. Interestingly, and in contrast to other writers on the drug culture, these acid poems are written in formal metre. Of the 60s and 70s, Gunn says, "They were tremendous fun. I resigned my tenure position at Berkeley: I said I wanted to devote myself to poetry. I really wanted to devote myself to going to concerts in Golden Gate Park and to taking drugs. But then, who would prefer damp tweed and warm ale on a rainy afternoon to a new world where Birds whistled, all Nature was doing something while Leather Kid and Fleshly lay on a bank and gleamingly discoursed.
Gunn is also a poet of movement. Not a poet of travel, as such, but of constant change and the freedom tendered by refusal to set foot down firmly or cling to the past. There is freedom in movement, but it should be recalled that Gunn never had a steady family life in which he might stake an identity. His parents divorced when he was still young, and his mother committed suicide. He spent most of his student days at University College School living with friends and aunts.
He grew to be at bitter odds with his father. The two men who finally exerted a lasting influence in his life were two giants of literary criticism: The tight-fisted and elusive diction of his first books never really disappears, even if the later poems tend to be more freely constructed and easier to comprehend on a first pass.
This is a development in style that makes sense across both geography and time, in this case from Cambridge to San Francisco, from the buttoned s to the bare-chested s.
In doing so he evolved from British tradition and European existentialism to embrace the relaxed ways of the California counterculture. He kept every inch of the British tradition while sunbathing on the deck with a daiquiri.
Unlike the perpetually disappointed and homely author of The Less Deceived, Gunn seems every stitch the charming, tanned beach boy, sometimes with bleached hair, sometimes as a robust, weathered brunette, as in the dazzling photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe.
He is an Anglo-American poet, a post-war British poet, an experimental formalist, a poet who addressed the AIDS crisis and homosexual desire, but no single description works well by itself. This probably has a lot to do with the era in which he grew to prominence. He was well known as a poet on the jamb of greatness before he shouldered the closet door open. Also, he did not have to publish primarily in anthologies devoted to homosexual poetry in order to gain an audience.
As a young poet today, he probably would.