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

Thom Gunn Donald Davie

I have in the press - to use that portentous phrase - a book about British poetry since 1960. And as I put it together I was surprised by how insistently Thom Gunn shouldered to centre-stage. For instance I found myself having to usher in the 1970s with Gunn's Moly (1971), supplemented by his To the Air (1974); and to usher them out with his The Passages of Joy (1982), along with his selected essays and lectures under the title, The Occasions of Poetry. Let me repeat: this came to me as a surprise, it was no part of my design. And I wonder to myself what it signifies.

Certainly it doesn't mean that I thought Thom Gunn the best British poet writing and publishing through the last thirty years. By the title I have given to my book - Under Briggflatts - I mean to intimate that I judge Basil Bunting, the author of Briggflatts, to be the master of us all. It is a judgment that Thom, almost alone among our contemporaries, has emphatically endorsed. But if I didn't thus mean to give Gunn pride of place, what did it signify that he so insistently pressed himself on my attention? Did it mean that I thought him, while not "the best", still the most representative? But how could that be, of a poet who spends little time in England, whose poems customarily spurn English settings in favour of his adopted milieu, San Francisco and its ...


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