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Thom Gunn: the Plain Style and the City

Thom Gunn: the Plain Style and the City

(p.71) Thom Gunn: the Plain Style and the City
At the Barriers
August Kleinzahler
University of Chicago Press

The popular line on Gunn's poetry, trotted out as recently as this past summer by A. Alvarez, in a review of Gunn's Collected Poems in the New Yorker, is that his first book, Fighting Terms, and his next, The Sense of Movement, established him as the young lion among poets of his generation; that he came unglued, rather lost, after his move to the States, and with his 1971 collection, Moly, had utterly gone down the tubes. There is one fine example of his early style in the book, “The Wound,” seamless in execution and convincing all the way through, but the poetry in the book is top-of-the-line juvenilia, interesting only with respect to the later work. In truth, very few actually read the book at the time (it was published in an edition of only three hundred copies), but it established his reputation, a reputation amplified and consolidated by The Sense of Movement, published by Faber in 1957. Gunn's talk was of the first order. His reading of the poem was close, appreciative, and smart. The critical voice was modest. Gunn resisted the broad claims that usually attend the reexamination of neglected figures, particularly those identified with the avant-garde, and located the poem in a tradition, pointed out its virtues, explained what the poet was up to, and, in general, recommended reading it in very strong, if understated, terms.

Keywords:   Collected Poems, New Yorker, Fighting Terms, Moly, Thom Gunn, poetry

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