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Existentialism and Homosexuality in Gunn's Early Poetry

Existentialism and Homosexuality in Gunn's Early Poetry

(p.35) Existentialism and Homosexuality in Gunn's Early Poetry
At the Barriers
Alfred Corn
University of Chicago Press

Powell analyzes the variety of early poses Gunn strikes, inflected by his homosexuality; and Corn connects the homosexuality to Gunn's growing commitment to existentialism during the 1950s. Not unrelated to the Corn chapter, David Gewanter enlarges the issue of sexuality by tracing it to mortality in a meditation on how Gunn figures the human body throughout his work. Delicacy of thought wrapped up in protective toughness: this is not a bad description of Gunn's early poetry. His readers were quick to notice the juxtaposition, often with a degree of puzzled surprise, which suggests that they had not fully understood its origin; for among the regenerative aspects of homosexuality is the way in which the gay man's images of himself and his desired other may change places, overlap, or elide. Perhaps he will put on his leather disguise, look in the mirror, and think: “I could go for him.” Does that sound familiar? It should: “In goggles, donned impersonality, / In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust, / They strap in doubt . . .” The key imagery of Gunn's first three collections repeatedly alludes to the homosexual iconography of the 1950s, and its power is immeasurably increased by being strapped into tight verse forms.

Keywords:   existentialism, poetry, homosexuality, 1950s, sexuality

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