The letters of Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

Book - 2022

"The Letters of Thom Gunn presents the first complete portrait of the private life, reflections, and relationships of a maverick figure in the history of British and American poetry"--

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Personal correspondence
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2022.
Main Author
Thom Gunn (author)
First American edition
Physical Description
lxii, 734 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Editing and annotating the letters
  • Chronology
  • The letters.
Review by Booklist Review

Thom Gunn was an English poet who came to the U.S. in 1954, made San Francisco his home, and published more than 20 books of poetry and essays. The introduction to this exquisitely edited collection of his letters states, "This book does not pretend to be a biography," but it does come close to relating a life story via Gunn's prodigious correspondence. Editors August Kleinzahler, Michael Nott, and Clive Wilmer knew Gunn, and friendship and passion shine throughout this erudite tome. Gunn is said to have "detested the confessional" in poetry and avoided it in his own. Yet in his letters the guarded self is seemingly on holiday. Empathy is what one feels while reading through these letters that span a life. His was a "modulated" public voice; he held back when writing about drug use or his experiences as a gay man. "Gunn's private words" are here for the first time, presented "for public consideration." Friendship was everything to him; loving life fully, he lived it daringly and vigorously to the end. Gunn's letters are a testament to his vitality and enthusiasm for a cornucopia of experiences embraced with gusto and eloquently shared.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Poets Kleinzahler and Wilmer join up with scholar Nott for this beautifully selected collection of letters by poet Thom Gunn (1929--2004). The first presentation of "Gunn's private words for public consideration," it's filled with powerful takes on his creative process, interpersonal relationships, and day-to-day life. Gunn often wrote about his garden ("I have all sorts of herbs.... It is amazing how much better some are when fresh"); his poetic craft and workshopping of pieces; and the experience of being a gay man in the second half of the 20th century as he navigates sexual adventures and the AIDS epidemic. The poet comes across as principled and funny: a movie lover his whole life, he memorably notes that Pulp Fiction "is a bit as if Henry James were to write a treatment of Titus Andronicus." He boosts the works of other poets, too, including Gary Snyder (a "careful craftsman") and August Kleinzahler ("better than anybody on this continent of his age"). The editors' footnotes are illustrative rather than intrusive, and the robust collection is packed with life and vigor. This should help bring Gunn and his work to a new generation of readers. (May)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Letters reveal a poet's depths. Meticulously edited, introduced, and annotated by literary scholar Nott and poets Kleinzahler and Wilmer, this commodious selection vibrantly portrays the acclaimed British poet Gunn (1929-2004). In a comprehensive biographical overview, Nott observes that Gunn "was not just the leather-jacket-wearing, motorbike-riding tough that he is sometimes made out to be; nor the rambunctiously laughing, happy-go-lucky bon vivant that he often showed to the world," but a tender friend and an artist of "literary and humane intelligence." In letters to fellow poets, Gunn reflects on his writing process, the publication and reception of his work, his assessments of other poets, and, not least, his enthusiastic identity as a gay man, which he needed to conceal in his early poems. Although he once toyed with having heterosexual sex to satisfy his curiosity, he decided "that one must not enter on such things if one cannot be happy in them and make the girl happy. It is a pity," he added wryly, "to be perverted." He gushes about his love for Mike Kitay, whom he met at Cambridge in 1952, and raunchily extols sex. In 1954, at Stanford as a creative writing fellow, he was quickly enamored of California, where he settled. In the 1970s, LSD, cocaine, and speed became habitual, supplemented by alcohol, and AIDS made the 1980s a grievous decade of loss. In a letter to his lifelong friend neurologist Oliver Sacks, Gunn reveals the values he most cherished: "I found you so talented," Gunn wrote of his early impression, "but so deficient in one quality--just the most important--call it humanity, or sympathy, or something like that. And, frankly, I despaired of your ever becoming a good writer, because I didn't see how one could be taught such a quality." A detailed chronology, glossary of names, and photographs round out the volume, which is sure to please any fan of literary biography. A work of impressive scholarship. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.