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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Thom Gunn Belle Randall

THE almost simultaneous appearance of these two new volumes by Thom Gunn provides a rare opportunity to consider the poems in light of both the poet's stated intentions and those influences he recognizes and gratefully acknowledges. Unfortunately this opportunity was disregarded by critics who first reviewed the books in the Times Literary Supplement (23 July 1982) and the Guardian (28 July 1982), where less space was devoted to Gunn's writing than to his public image (more visible in Britain than in the United States, and thus perhaps more annoying). Both begin by harking back to Gunn's 1950s image as a rebellious motorcycle poet and express disgruntlement at the direction that image has taken. The reviews are catty and inaccurate, sometimes both at once, as when Gavin Ewart writes, 'He moved away from the realist queerness-always a submerged Faber tradition-into not very interesting abstractions, where too much is, or might be, emblematic or symbolic of something else.' In fact, Gunn, of all contemporary poets, is perhaps the least likely to be vaguely symbolic. Both by training and by natural inclination, he is a plain style poet, a poet more concerned with denotative accuracy than with connotative aura (though admittedly these are matters of degree). His forte is not the merely, or even richly, suggestive, but precise statement, whether of abstract thought or the physical world. The most malicious aspect of these reviews is their failure to make any real case; they simply strike a disparaging tone. I hate to think ...


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