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

Thom Gunn Donald Hall

Thom Gunn has lived in San Francisco for over thirty years, writing powerful intelligent poems out of friendship and solitude.

He was born in England sixty years ago. His mother, he tells us, read Gibbon while he was in the womb; his father excelled as a journalist, the Beaverbrook sort, and eventually became editor of the tabloid Daily Sketch. But his parents were divorced when he was eight and his mother died when he was fifteen; Gunn's intransigent independence, which characterizes man and work, perhaps made virtue of necessity.

After finishing secondary school in London, Gunn served two years in the British Army before he went up to Trinity College, most artistic or intellectual of Cambridge institutions. Before he graduated in 1953, he was already known as a poet.

Thom Gunn, therefore, is an English poet: except that he isn't: nor is he American. The point is not legalities of citizenship (Gunn remains a resident alien, fitting a poet both domestic and estranged) but that he may not be labeled by nationality or anything else: his identity is his resistance to the limitations of identity. He belongs to uncertainty, exploration, movement, and ongoingness. His early motorcycle poem, 'On the Move', says all that Gunn cares about permanent addresses when it famously ends: "One is always nearer by not keeping still". Here is the man without conventional supports who refuses title and easychair, political party and national identity. For Thom Gunn, affiliation seems a ...


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