Collected Poems

Thom Gunn, Author
Thom Gunn, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $35 (495p) ISBN 978-0-374-12621-6
Reviewed on: 04/04/1994
Release date: 04/01/1994
Paperback - 495 pages - 978-0-374-52433-3
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-571-17195-8
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Whether describing the countryside of his native England or an acid trip in his adopted California, Gunn's ( The Passages of Joy ) poems have a singular purity of measure and tone. He seems to have realized early on that words are not like ""dependable friars on the Alp / Saving with wisdom and with brandy kegs,"" and to have made a peace with art, its beauty and inherent artifice. Thus he avoids both naive realism and modernist self-referentiality. Gunn is reminiscent of Hardy in his style and in his interest in character--his own, but also that of strangers and historical and mythological figures, whose inner lives he invents. Hence the kinship of the poem ""Jesus and his Mother"" (""Are you the boy I bore alone, / No doctor near to cut the cord? / I cannot reach to call you Lord, / Answer me as my only son"") and ""Breaking Ground,"" which hits closer to home: ."" . . going down to earth, that's / what I can't accept / her kind hand, her / grey eyes, her voice / intonations I've known / all my life--to be / lost, forgotten in / an indiscriminate mulch, a / humus of no colour."" The quality that comes through most clearly in Gunn's poetry is care, both in the making of the poem and in the concern for people. Nowhere is this more evident than in ""A Sketch of the Great Dejection"" from The Man with Night Sweats . As for Hardy, nature and character illuminate each other: ""I sat upon a disintegrating gravestone. / How can I continue? I asked. / I longed to whet my senses, but upon what? / On mud? It was a desert of raw mud."" The conclusion is, appropriately, modest and unsentimental: ""So I remained alert, confused and uncomforted. / I fared on and, though the landscape did not change, / it came to seem after a while like a place of recuperation."" (Apr.)
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