Selected Poems

Thom Gunn, Author, August Kleinzahler, Editor
Thom Gunn, Author, August Kleinzahler, Editor Farrar Straus Giroux $14 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-25859-7
Reviewed on: 03/30/2009
Release date: 03/01/2009
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Serious readers of contemporary poetry who agreed on nothing else could agree to admire Thom Gunn. When Gunn died, age 75, in 2004, critics in his native England remembered a tough young writer who gained fast fame in the 1950s, whose cool pentameters praised motorcycles and Elvis; Americans remembered the certainly learned, and yet perpetually youthful poet who made San Francisco his permanent home, a celebrant of gay life in the 1970s, and an elegist of HIV and AIDS in the 1990s, his extreme topics subjected to remarkable formal control. Kleinzahler (Sleeping It Off in Rapid City)-another San Francisco writer, and a friend of Gunn's for decades-has put together a slender, effective selection, from early set pieces (""On the Move"") to midcareer retrospectives like ""Autobiography"" (""The sniff of the real, that's/ what I'd want to get"") through the valedictory poems of Boss Cupid (2000), with its long-delayed, careful response to Gunn's mother's suicide. Gunn ""became more adventurous as he grew older,"" says Kleinzahler's avid introduction, and the whole of the poems bear him out. The introduction, and the choice among poems, emphasizes Gunn's adventurous range in technique-quatrains, trimeter stanzas, meticulous free verse, and so on-more than it shows his sometimes adventurous life: Gunn wrote of dance clubs, street protests, drugs, and sex, but also about grief, care and personal loyalty. Though the volume seems too brief, the whole of Gunn's power shines through. He could find many more readers now.
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