PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Monthly Carcanet Books
Next Issue Thomas Kinsella in conversation Jeffrey Wainwright comes to grips with St Chad Hsien Min Toh gives us a Korean perspective Iain Bamforth on Lou and Fritz: Sensible Shoes meets Starstruck Judith Bishop on Love and Self-Understanding in an Algorhythmic Age

This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

Poetry for the Future: Thom Gunn & the Legacy of Poetry Andrew Latimer
HOW CAN A POEM be like a novel? Or perhaps a better question would be, why should a poem be like a novel? These were questions that Thom Gunn posited whilst writing his seventeen-part mini-epic, Misanthropos. The poem, in Gunn’s own words, is:

the account of a man on his own. It is divided into four parts. In the first, he has escaped out of battle into a distant part of the world; on his journey he sees nobody, and concludes that he is the only human being left alive on earth.1

You would be forgiven for thinking this the blurb for a sci-fi novel, in the manner of Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night. Misanthropos’s pre-publication names (‘The Last Man’, ‘The Book for the Last Survivor’, ‘For the Survivor’) would only support this preconception. Yet, with its highly formal style and its measured appearance – fourteen out of seventeen sections fit perfectly onto one page – there is no mistaking it for anything but a poem. In fact, Gunn’s poem seems obsessively concerned with poetry’s formality. In the second part of Misanthropos, Gunn plays a clever trick of verse, utilising the highly artificial Renaissance echo-poem to depict his protagonist’s first encounter with a post-apocalyptic human:

At last my shout is answered! Are you near,
Man whom I cannot see but can hear?

Here.


(Misanthropos II)

Creeping in from the right-hand margin, a space not often occupied by poetry, comes the soft sound of another voice. Or, ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image