‘I manage my mere voice on postcards best.’: Review of The Letters of Thom Gunn, edited by Michael Nott, August Kleinzahler, and Clive Wilmer (London: Faber & Faber, 2021).

Felix Hawlin

Abstract


In The Letters of Thom Gunn, edited by Michael Nott, August Kleinzahler, and Clive Wilmer (London: Faber, 2021), we encounter the poet’s private voice for the first time. Gunn is a pre-eminent poet, and probably the most important gay poet of the later twentieth century. This review examines how Gunn’s reputation has been shaped by homophobic attitudes, and how he has been marginalised. These letters reveal the evolution of Gunn’s work, and illuminate the particular struggles he faced as a gay writer: from a police investigation into him and his partner, his early attempts to persuade his editor to publish his openly queer poems, as well the deaths of friends from AIDS that inspired the powerful elegies of The Man with Night Sweats (1992). Gunn often described himself as an ‘impersonal’ poet, and this book undoubtedly offers a more profound insight into his life and work than has been seen before. Reflecting on the fact that Gunn spent much of his early career hiding his identity as a gay man, the review emphasises the importance of this encounter with his private voice.


Keywords


Letters; Thom Gunn; Gay; Poetry

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