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This review is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

A MIRROUR FOR POETS THOM GUNN: Collected Poems (Faber and Faber) £20.00

During the year of Shakespeare's quatercentenary - which was 1964 - I went to an outdoor poetry reading in Trinity College. It was a close and sunny evening in May and a young poet was reading Thorm Gunn's work. It sounded strange to me - all those blunt and thumping stanzas about motorbikes and dance halls. But if I had known more I might have been more touched by the irony of the arc which British poetry was describing right in front of me: from the imperial stance of an Elizabethan master to the tentative disaffection of this post-imperial maverick.

The connection is not as improbable as it sounds. No discussion of Thom Gunn's work can begin without addressing the fact that he started as an acclaimed British poet and is now - especially since the publication of his last book The Man with Night Sweats -an acclaimed American one. He himself has a note at the back of this book which includes the sentence: 'In my early books I was still an English poet, not yet Anglo-American.'

The question is what happened in between? The answer is complex. It lies in the region of poetry and marginalization; it emerges from the troubled issue of the conflict between national identity and sexual definition. It has everything to do - as it did with Auden - with attitudes to power seen through the lens of sexual alienation.

In the early 1950S Thorn Gunn was ...


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