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 might effectively contain new speech rhythms and open kinds and that experimental kinds may well nonetheless keep technical and highbrow rigor. alongside the best way, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the Sixties, the existential probabilities of the overdue 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from his adolescence in Thirties Britain to his ultimate years in California, from his earliest guides to his later unpublished notebooks, bringing jointly one of the most very important poet-critics from each side of the Atlantic to evaluate his oeuvre. This landmark quantity strains how Gunn, in either his lifestyles and his writings, driven at barriers of other 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
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. What emerges from Fighting Terms is a new note—a private intensity of voice made more convincing because it lacks the reinforcement of a sanctioned public poem.
It’s difﬁcult ﬁ fty years on to recapture the surprise or discomfort that greeted the emblematic heroes of this poem. The disproportion between young men who rode motorcycles and traditional heroes such as Achilles or Napoleon is striking. It’s unlikely that many poetry readers of the 1950s would have bothered to see the ﬁ lm The Wild One (1953), directed by Laslo Benedek and starring Marlon Brando at his most magnetic. It depicts the life of rebellious American motorcyclists, giving a more or less accurate picture of what had been going on in California during the decade before the ﬁlm appeared.
Yet we can see the aptness if we understand it as an exaltation of the will, a seconding of existentialist concepts. ” Like Camus’s Sisyphus, Gunn decides to afﬁrm his situation rather than lament it, no matter what private or social or legal disadvantages were involved. If he wills and chooses his sexuality, he transforms an innate psychic propensity into an expression of freedom. One reason it’s important to reﬂect on Gunn’s privileging of the human will is that, in the English poetic tradition, the faculty of willing is generally devalued, regarded as a poor second to unconscious, unpremeditated feeling and action.