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This review is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

THE DANGEROUS EDGE OF THINGS: TWO VIEWS OF THOM GUNN Thom Gunn, The Man with Night Sweats (Faber) £11.99, £5.99 pb

It was Graham Greene who adopted as motto a line from 'Bishop Blougram's Apology' - 'Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things' - but it might equally have been Thom Gunn. An interest isn't necessarily an involvement, of course, and an edge may be some way from the centre. Such niceties of distancing are recurrent features of Gunn's earlier poems: it hasn't always been sufficiently noticed that although 'One moves as well, always toward, toward', the bikers in 'On the Move' are 'them', not 'us'; that while Elvis Presley holds his stance, 'We keep ourselves in touch with a mere dime'; or that the admirer of 'all the toughs' in 'Lines for a Book' comes from much the same protected playground as Stephen Spender. This balance of objectivity and inwardness finds its most haunting image in 'The Corridor', where the keyhole-squinting hotel voyeur, who seems to be simply the observer of an act, turns to discover that he is himself being watched by a pair of eyes reflected in a pierglass, an actor in someone else's drama, and thus part of an infinite sequence of watchers and watched. Even in 'A Map of the City', the poet is precisely distanced, standing 'upon a hill' outside San Francisco to celebrate the city's 'chance' and 'potentiality' and to assert: 'I would not have the risk diminished.'

That joyously, recklessly hedonistic wish is history: the 'risk' has changed, in a specific and catastrophic way, and meanwhile Gunn's stance within ...


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