Gunn is almost aggressively unfashionable---his use of language seems to come straight out of the seventies or before; but the subject matter (pre-AIDS gay life) comes from the seventies or before (in general) so it fits.That being said--the poems are very much a mixed bag. I stated before that there's an elegaic feel to this set. Most of the poems have something to do with remembering, and much of this remembering is quite a ways in the past--an old man remembering what it was like to be a young one.At his worst he becomes too much of a character---an elegizer from "Tales in the City." His questions are real--the intense life of freedom is over---why is it over--why did it end? He goes over the across the accounts of old lovers, not sad really, just melancholy. Even his happier memories seem to be covered over with a bit of a soft screen.But then there's some humdingers in here---the Jeffrey Dahlmer cycle is the first thing that comes to my mind--his classical themes ("Arachne...ect") connect about half the time---either they are brilliant with an almost surreal twist, or they suffer again the soft-lens treatment--too melancholy, too sentimental, too treated like an object---just another absent thing from the past that is brought up to view. Sometimes it's like hearing Grandpa stories, where you know what he's talking about means something to him, but has no connection outside of personal.If you like confessional poetry, you'll probably dig all the things I didn't. For me, confessionalism is kind of empty unless the writer hitches the soul-baring to something objective (otherwise it becomes a tedious narcissistic exercise). Thom Gunn tries---and narcissism certainly isn't anything I'd levy against him---it's just that I wish there was more center now and then, that's all.Anthony
I have a special place in my heart for Thom Gunn because I saw him give a reading the week he died. I'm assuming it was his last public reading but I haven't researched this. His last collection of poems is a lecherous and bitchy exploration of desire, from Greek mythology to Jeffrey Dahmer. It is not a complete success, but when the speaker of a poem sees a cute boy on a bicycle and says he wants to "creep into his armpit like a fly", I do get a little giddy.