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This article is taken from PN Review 70, Volume 16 Number 2, November - December 1989.

Thom Gunn Dick Davis

I haven't seen Gunn read his poetry often - I think three times in all - but each time he has made one or two remarks about poetry that have seemed to me especially revealing. Two such remarks stick in my mind. Once I heard him say, apropos of an early poem of his, that all young poets thought they were forging an individual voice, and they all wrote in the fashionable manner of the time - pause - "I know I certainly did". On another occasion after he had read a poem someone in the audience asked Didn't he think that was a rather sentimental poem (this was in Cambridge!). "Yes, I guess it is," answered Gunn. "Sentimentality is a part of life too." What struck me about these remarks was not only their modesty but their casual honesty, and their refusal to be as it were brow-beaten. They point I think to what has made Gunn such a marvellous poet: he really does look, as poets are supposed to look - but how many do? - at things for himself; he knows what the received opinion is and he quietly steps round it to take another look from a different angle. When he sees what he thinks he says it, again quietly, without emphasis, with something of a disarming nonchalance. He cares more about what he sees than about himself as seer, or about himself as having the right opinions.

This casual honesty, this light ...


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