Thom Gunn (Thomson William Gunn) Biography
(1929– ), (Thomson William Gunn), Fighting Terms, The Sense of Movement, My Sad Captains, Touch, Moly
Anglo-American poet, born in Gravesend, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. From the mid-1950s he has lived chiefly in California, where he began lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958. Fighting Terms (1954), his first substantial collection of verse, displayed the energetic engagement of experience that has remained a central characteristic of his verse throughout continuous stylistic developments; he has described his poetry as ‘a debate between the passion for definition and the passion for flow’. The rational tone and accomplished use of conventional forms in his earlier work led to his association with the Movement, in whose anthologies he was represented. The Sense of Movement (1957) emphasized his individuality in poetry unusual for the formal virtuosity of its treatments of themes derived from popular culture. With My Sad Captains (1961) his work became more conversationally flexible through the adoption of syllabic verse-lines, which are used alongside more traditional metres throughout Touch (1967) and Moly (1971). The latter indicates his participation in the Californian ‘alternative culture’ of the late 1960s and repeatedly invokes the effects of hallucinatory drugs. Jack Straw's Castle (1975) increased the exploratory freedom of his verse forms. The candour with which he had always used autobiographical material culminated in the open treatments of his homosexuality in The Passages of Joy (1982) and The Man with Night Sweats (1992), works of remarkable technical and thematic range. Among the numerous publications by small presses which sustained his ethos of experimentation throughout the 1980s are Undesirables. (1988) and Death's Door (1989). Selected Poems: 1950–1975 appeared in 1979. The Occasions of Poetry (edited by Clive Wilmer, 1982) is a collection of his critical and autobiographical essays; among his works as an editor are Selected Poems of Fulke Greville (1968).
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