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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.


From its title onwards, this is a bizarre and rather lovely book. To my mind, it is Gunn's best collection since the dreadfully underrated Moly (1971), but I wonder how many readers will agree. Certainly, there are individual poems here which rank with Gunn's best. Among them I would include 'The Gas Poker', 'In the Post Office' and two short sequences, 'Troubadour' (about the gay American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer) and 'Dancing David' (about the biblical myth of King David).

But it is as a whole collection that Boss Cupid really triumphs. To read it for the first time, even if already familiar with some of the poems it contains, is to be led through an unpredictable sequence of changes of direction in topic, technique and tone whose initial effect was, for me, one of thrilling bewilderment. On subsequent reading, however, everything falls into place. What might have seemed perverse, or even out of control, at first, is suddenly entirely logical, precisely in keeping with the whole of the rest of the poet's career.

We have seen such variety before. It has opened Gunn to adverse criticism in the past, often from readers who were uncomfortable with the insufficient loftiness of syllabic and free-verse poems from the middle period - usually poems about sex or drugs or rock'n'roll. Well, Boss Cupid contains poems from the loft and the cellar, as well as a playroom or two in between. This is some edifice.

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