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Summation and Chthonic Power

Summation and Chthonic Power

(p.135) Summation and Chthonic Power
At the Barriers
John Peck
University of Chicago Press

Summation is powerful and mature statement, but as an organizing principle for poetry in English it has regained, long after the modernist detours around it, at best an intricately defended, half-confident status. To modify a phrase from a late poem by Wallace Stevens in “The Course of a Particular,” there is a resistance involved. Thom Gunn excelled in skillfully neutralizing that resistance from the outset of his career. As for chthonic power, that phrase represents something common in literary thinking since writers began to reassess Romanticism in the wake of the depth psychologies and the ongoing demolition of traditional metaphysics. Gunn hardly walked in fear of the category, though it seems that he never employed it. His flexible style is one of the most conceptually discerning in the twentieth century, and also one of the most mature in exploring the adventures of instinct (“adventure,” a term he takes from Robert Duncan). The two terms in the title to this chapter, especially given Gunn's experience with hallucinogens, point to several dimensions.

Keywords:   summation, chthonic power, Thom Gunn, poetry, speech rhythms, open forms, experimental styles

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