Thomson William "Thom" Gunn (29 August 1929 – 25 April 2004), was an English poet who was praised for his early verses in England, where he was associated with The Movement and his later poetry in America, even after moving toward a looser, free-verse style. After relocating from England to San Francisco, Gunn wrote about gay-related topics—particularly in his most famous work, The Man With Night Sweats in 1992—as well as drug use, sex and his bohemian lifestyle. He won major literary awards and his best poems have a compact philosophical elegance.
Gunn was born in Gravesend, Kent, England, the son of Bert Gunn. Both of his parents were journalists. They divorced when he was 10 years old. When he was a teenager his mother killed herself. It was she who had sparked in him a love of reading, including an interest in the work of Christopher Marlowe, John Keats, John Milton, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, along with several prose writers. In his youth, he attended University College School in Hampstead, London, then spent two years in the British national service and six months in Paris. Later, he studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated in 1953, and published his first collection of verse, Fighting Terms, the following year. Among several critics who praised the work, John Press wrote, "This is one of the few volumes of postwar verse that all serious readers of poetry need to possess and to study."
For the Scottish painter, see Herbert James Gunn
Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe, was an English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day. He greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year as Marlowe and who rose to become the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright after Marlowe's mysterious early death. Marlowe's plays are known for the use of blank verse and their overreaching protagonists.
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his works having been in publication for only four years before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 25.
As a young man, he wrote poetry associated with The Movement and, later, with the work of Ted Hughes. Gunn's poetry, together with that of Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, and other members of The Movement, has been described as "...emphasizing purity of diction and a neutral tone...encouraging a more spare language and a desire to represent a seeing of the world with fresh eyes."
Edward James Hughes was an English poet and children's writer. Critics frequently rank him as one of the best poets of his generation, and one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. He served as Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death. In 2008 The Times ranked Hughes fourth on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Philip Arthur Larkin was an English poet, novelist and librarian. His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945, followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), and he came to prominence in 1955 with the publication of his second collection of poems, The Less Deceived, followed by The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974). He contributed to The Daily Telegraph as its jazz critic from 1961 to 1971, articles gathered in All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961–71 (1985), and he edited The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (1973). His many honours include the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He was offered, but declined, the position of Poet Laureate in 1984, following the death of Sir John Betjeman.
Donald Alfred Davie was an English Movement poet, and literary critic. His poems in general are philosophical and abstract, but often evoke various landscapes.
In 1954, Gunn emigrated to the United States to teach writing at Stanford University and to remain close to his partner, Mike Kitay, whom he had met while at college. Gunn and Kitay continued to reside together until Gunn's death.While at Stanford he taught a class called "The Occasions of Poetry". Gunn taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1958 to 1966 and again from 1973 to 2000. He was "an early fan" of the radical gay sex documentary zine Straight to Hell .
Leland Stanford Junior University is an American private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic strength, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world's top universities.
A zine is a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Zines are either the product of a single person, or of a very small group and are popularly photocopied into physical prints for circulation. A fanzine is a non-professional and non-official publication produced by enthusiasts of a particular cultural phenomenon for the pleasure of others who share their interest. The term was coined in an October 1940 science fiction fanzine by Russ Chauvenet and popularized within science fiction fandom, entering the Oxford English Dictionary in 1949.
In April 2004, he died of acute polysubstance abuse, including methamphetamine, at his home in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood in San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960.
Poly drug use refers to the use of two or more psychoactive drugs in combination to achieve a particular effect. In many cases one drug is used as a base or primary drug, with additional drugs to leaven or compensate for the side effects of the primary drug and make the experience more enjoyable with drug synergy effects, or to supplement for primary drug when supply is low.
Methamphetamine is a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that is mainly used as a recreational drug and less commonly as a second-line treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity. Methamphetamine was discovered in 1893 and exists as two enantiomers: levo-methamphetamine and dextro-methamphetamine. Methamphetamine properly refers to a specific chemical, the racemic free base, which is an equal mixture of levomethamphetamine and dextromethamphetamine in their pure amine forms. It is rarely prescribed over concerns involving human neurotoxicity and potential for recreational use as an aphrodisiac and euphoriant, among other concerns, as well as the availability of safer substitute drugs with comparable treatment efficacy. Dextromethamphetamine is a much stronger CNS stimulant than levomethamphetamine.
During the 1960s and 1970s, his verse became increasingly bold in its exploration of drugs, homosexuality, and poetic form. He enjoyed the bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco so much that Edmund White described him as "the last of the commune dwellers [...] serious and intellectual by day and druggy and sexual by night". While he continued to sharpen his use of the metrical forms that characterised his early career, he became more and more interested in syllabics and free verse. "He's possibly the only poet to have written a halfway decent quintain while on LSD, and he's certainly one of the few to profess genuine admiration for both [Yvor] Winters (the archformalist) and Allen Ginsberg (the arch ... well, Allen Ginsberg)", critic Daniel Orr has written. "This is, even for the poetry world, a pretty odd background."
Edmund Valentine White III is an American novelist, memoirist, and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His books include The Joy of Gay Sex (1977), his trio of autobiographic novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), and his biography of Jean Genet.
Syllabic verse is a poetic form having a fixed or constrained number of syllables per line, while stress, quantity, or tone play a distinctly secondary role — or no role at all — in the verse structure. It is common in languages that are syllable-timed, such as Japanese or modern French or Finnish — as opposed to stress-timed languages such as English, in which accentual verse and accentual-syllabic verse are more common.
Free verse is an open form of poetry. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any musical pattern.
In classic verse forms, like the terza rima of Dante, he explored modern anxieties:
It is despair that nothing cannot be
Flares in the mind and leaves a smoky mark
Look upward. Neither firm nor free
Purposeless matter hovers in the dark.— "The Annihilation of Nothing"
Gunn, who praised his Stanford mentor Yvor Winters for keeping "both Rule and Energy in view, / Much power in each, most in the balanced two," found a productive tension – rather than imaginative restriction – in the technical demands of traditional poetic forms. He is one of the few contemporary poets (James Merrill would be another) to write serious poetry in heroic couplets – a form whose use in the twentieth century is generally restricted to light verse and epigrammatic wit. In the 1960s, however, he came to experiment increasingly with free verse, and the discipline of writing to a specific set of visual images, coupled with the liberation of free verse, constituted a new source of rule and energy in Gunn's work: a poem such as "Pierce Street" in his next collection, Touch (1967), has a grainy, photographic fidelity, while the title-poem uses hesitant, sinuous free verse to portray a scene of newly acknowledged intimacy shared with his sleeping lover (and the cat).
The poet's major stylistic change in his shift toward free verse roughly within a decade that included much of the 1960s, combined with the other changes in his life — his move from England to America, from academic Cambridge to bohemian San Francisco, his becoming openly gay, his drug-taking, his writing about the "urban underbelly" — caused many to conjecture how his lifestyle was affecting his work. "British reviewers who opposed Gunn's technical shifts blamed California, just as American critics would, later on, connect his adventurous lifestyle with his more 'relaxed' versification," according to Orr, who added that even as of 2009, critics were contrasting "Gunn's libido with his tight metrics — as if no one had ever written quatrains about having sex before".
In Gunn's next book, Jack Straw's Castle (1976), the dream modulates into nightmare, related partly to his actual anxiety-dreams about moving house, and partly to the changing American political climate. "But my life," he wrote, "insists on continuities — between America and England, between free verse and metre, between vision and everyday consciousness."
The Passages of Joy reaffirmed those continuities: it contains sequences about London in 1964–65 and about time spent in New York in 1970. The Occasions of Poetry, a selection of his essays and introductions, appeared at the same time.
Ten years were to pass before his next and most famous collection, The Man With Night Sweats (1992), dominated by AIDS-related elegies.Neil Powell praised the book: "Gunn restores poetry to a centrality it has often seemed close to losing, by dealing in the context of a specific human catastrophe with the great themes of life and death, coherently, intelligently, memorably. One could hardly ask for more." As a result of the book, Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1993. Although AIDS was a focus of much of his later work, he remained HIV-negative himself.
That year, Gunn published a second collection of occasional essays, Shelf Life, and his substantial Collected Poems, which David Biespiel hailed as a highlight of the century's poetry: "Thom Gunn is a poet of 'comradely love.' Compassion has always been his domain and his work's principal emotion. If 20th century verse written in English can be seen as a battle between memory and voice - between the phenomena and its history, on the one hand, and the poet's conviction and feeling about it, on the other - then Gunn's importance lies in the accuracy with which he unifies the language and emotion of experience. You're not sure where one ends and the other starts. The result is that his poems find the limits of their imaginative territory and then push beyond that."His final book of poetry was Boss Cupid (2000).
In 2003 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature together with Beryl Bainbridge. He also received the Levinson Prize, an Arts Council of Great Britain Award, a Rockefeller Award, the W. H. Smith Award, the PEN (Los Angeles) Prize for Poetry, the Sara Teasdale Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, the Forward Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations.He won Publishing Triangle's inaugural Triangle Award for Gay Poetry in 2001 for Boss Cupid; following his death, the award was renamed the Thom Gunn Award in his memory.
Five years after his death, a new edition of Gunn's Selected Poems was published, edited by August Kleinzahler.
The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017.One of the works of art is metal bootprints along the curb which honor 28 people (including Gunn) who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco.
Bob Edward Duncan was an American poet and a devotee of Hilda "H.D." Doolittle and the Western esoteric tradition who spent most of his career in and around San Francisco. Though associated with any number of literary traditions and schools, Duncan is often identified with the poets of the New American Poetry and Black Mountain College. Duncan saw his work as emerging especially from the tradition of Pound, Williams and Lawrence. Duncan was a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance.
Robert Pinsky is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Pinsky is the author of nineteen books, most of which are collections of his poetry. His published work also includes critically acclaimed translations, including The Inferno of Dante Alighieri and The Separate Notebooks by Czesław Miłosz. He teaches at Boston University.
Robert L. Hass is an American poet. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. He won the 2007 National Book Award and shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for the collection Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005. In 2014 he was awarded the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
Arthur Yvor Winters was an American poet and literary critic.
Donald Andrew Hall Jr. was an American poet, writer, editor and literary critic. He was the author of over 50 books across several genres from children's literature, biography, memoir, essays, and including 22 volumes of verse. Hall was a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard, and Oxford. Early in his career, he became the first poetry editor of The Paris Review (1953–1961), the quarterly literary journal, and was noted for interviewing poets and other authors on their craft.
August Kleinzahler is an American poet.
David Biespiel is an American poet, memoirist, and critic born in 1964 and raised in the Meyerland section of Houston, Texas. He is the founder of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters in Portland, Oregon and Poet-in-Residence at Oregon State University.
Poetry Northwest was founded as a quarterly, poetry-only journal in 1959 by Errol Pritchard, with Carolyn Kizer, Richard Hugo, Edith Shiffert and Nelson Bentley as co-editors. The first issue was 32 pages and included the work of Richmond Lattimore, May Swenson, Philip Larkin, James Wright, and William Stafford.
Edgar Bowers was an American poet who won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1989.
Randall Mann is an American poet.
James Vincent Cunningham was an American poet, literary critic and teacher.
Homoerotic poetry is a genre of poetry implicitly dealing with same-sex romantic or sexual interaction. The male-male erotic tradition encompasses poems by major poets such as Abu Nuwas, Walt Whitman, Federico García Lorca, Sandro Penna, W. H. Auden, Fernando Pessoa and Allen Ginsberg. In the female-female tradition, authors may include those such as Sappho, "Michael Field", "Marie-Madeleine" and Maureen Duffy. Other poets wrote poems and letters with homoerotic overtones toward individuals, such as Emily Dickinson to her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert.
Ann Stanford was an American poet.
In Defense of Reason is a collection of three volumes of literary criticisms by the American poet and literary critic Yvor Winters. First published in 1947, the book is fairly well known in literary circles, both British and American, particularly for its meticulous study of metrical verse and Winters' system of ethical criticism. Scholars and writers still mention or cite the book somewhat often in scholarly monographs to the present. It remains in print through the Ohio University Press.
The Thom Gunn Award is an annual literary award, presented by Publishing Triangle to honour works of gay male poetry. First presented in 2001 as the Triangle Award for Gay Poetry, the award was renamed in memory of American poet Thom Gunn, the award's first winner, following his death in 2004.
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.
Justin Chin (1969-2015) was a Malaysian-American poet, essayist and performer. In his work he often dealt with queer Asian-American identity and interrogated this category's personal and political circumstances.
The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along the Ringold Street alley in San Francisco's SOMA district honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017.