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This review is taken from PN Review 4, Volume 4 Number 4, July - September 1978.

AIR AND VARIATIONS To the Air by Thom Gunn, David R. Godine, S2.50.
The Missed Beat by Thom Gunn, The Gruffyground Press, unpriced.
Jack Straw's Castle by Thom Gunn, Faber, £3.25.
Thom Gunn & Ted Hughes by Alan Bold, Oliver & Boyd, £1.40.

Gunn's books have often tempted reviewers into speculation, sometimes disguised as literary exegesis, about the more newsworthy emblems of his lifestyle, motorbikes in the fifties, drugs in the sixties: understandably, since the questions raised are intriguing ones. How has Gunn managed to remain such an astonishingly youthful writer (the seven years between him and Larkin seem like a generation)? Are some of his more controversial subjects argument, image, or experience (a few favourites from The Sense of Movement are always dredged up here)? Above all, and most seriously, how has Gunn contrived to deal with such a succession of improbably trendy subjects without becoming in any way a superficial or modish poet?

Yet questions based on the life do not properly replace questions to do with the work and those who dwell on them seldom attend sufficiently to the Gunn who studied under Winters and who has edited selections of Greville and Jonson. Gunn's poetic task has been to devise a contemporary equivalent of the plain or native style of the Renaissance, and those critics who have so perversely worried about his lack of a 'voice' have failed to understand either the plain style or Gunn's version of it. In other respects, too, he has close affinities with the poets he has edited: no English poet has more successfully fused the plain style and complex abstract discourse than Greville, as the later poems in Caelica testify; while Jonson is characteristically a poet of the real world. Both ...


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