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

Thom Gunn Robert Pinsky
 
I am writing without any books at hand by Thom Gunn or anyone else, a few days before a complicated move - from the East Coast back to California, then back to Massachusetts - feeling distinctly not at home. Since Gunn, whom I admire immensely, has a special relation to the idea of being at home, I will take that as the theme for these paragraphs.

There is a poise in Gunn's poetry, a confidence without much swagger, that is like the bearing of a creature at home in its surroundings. Yet in the way that Elizabeth Bishop cast herself as a traveler in the world - nearly anonymous, focused on sensation, a temporary presence - Gunn sometimes conveys the reserve and intimacy of a visitor, a mingled privacy and attention, focused on the space between souls, a provisional presence. Gunn's poems achieve a quality of being at home while on the move, but without the plodding caution of the turtle. The calm wildness of a cat, possibly, or of some imagined Zen master. (One might write "of a cat or a Zen master" if the tutelary Gunn spirit of honesty and accuracy were not hovering nearby, asking with a polite, not quite derisive smile what do I know about Zen masters.)

And to qualify "cat" a little, I think I mean the quality that made jazz musicians coin the term as alluding to a guy or bloke, with an emphasis on feral dignity, self-possession, ...


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