Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

The life and work of Thom Gunn

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A posting on the New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog last Friday highlights an excerpt from an essay on the life and work of maverick gay poetic icon Thom Gunn that appears in this month’s issue of Poetry magazine. The excerpt—taken from the essay “Thom Gunn’s New Jerusalem” written by poet Tom Sleigh, and reprinted in its entirety in At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn—offers a candid look at how the various eccentricities and excesses of the poet’s life were mirrored in the style and content of the his work. Even as the poet’s life demonstrated that, as Sleigh writes, “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll… aren’t necessarily incompatible with personal loyalty, homebodiness, and domestic stability,” so too did Gunn’s work demonstrate that formal poetry could successfully include new speech rhythms and open forms and that experimental styles could still maintain technical and intellectual rigor. The excerpt from Sleigh’s essay, which you can also read online at the Poetry Foundation website, does an excellent job of making both these points while offering a bit of Gunn’s poetry mixed in as well. But for a complete critical study of Gunn’s oeuvre pick up a copy of At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn, or find out more about these related books:
The Selected Poems of Fulke Greville—edited with an introduction by Thom Gunn, the book is as revealing about Gunn himself, and the reading of earlier English verse in the 1960s, as it is about Greville’s own poetic achievement.
Breakfast with Thom Gunn—Randall Mann’s newest book of poems invokes Gunn’s spirit as the author grapples with dilemmas of the gay self embroiled in—and aroused by—a glittering, unforgiving subculture.