Those unfamiliar with Gunn might want to check out these twoposts from earlier in the month. The recordings I have are of Gunn reading at FSG's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1996, a few years before he passed away, and my biggest disappointment (in ALL of poetry month) is that I couldn't include on this blog a fourth poem he read that night, which contained some rather delightful--to put it mildly--off-color language and adult situations.
Regardless, I can't think of a better way to get a sense what kind of a person Gunn was than to listen to (or download) this introduction by Kleinzahler. I think we all hope someone will say such nice things about us after our leaving. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that FSG has just re-released Gunn's collection The Man with the Night Sweats with a new introduction by Kleinzahler. (You can buyitonline.)
More from Associate Publisher Linda Rosenberg, this time with commentary about August Kleinzahler new introduction to Thom Gunn'sThe Man With The Night Sweats (and, as a reminder, we had tworecordings by Thom Gunn posted on the blog earlier this month, and stay tuned, because August Kleinzahler will be coming on later this week to regale us with his tales of hanging out with Thom Gunn in San Francisco):
"August Kleinzahler's long friendship with Thom Gunn, perhaps made easier by each man’s adoption of San Francisco as his home city, surely enhanced his understanding and respect for the rigor and integrity of Gunn’s best work.In his introduction to The Man With Night Sweats, Kleinzahler considers both the poet and the man—as well as the 1980s, the terrible decade of which Gunn wrote.In Kleinzahler’s words:
“[A] central component of his mature poetry is its voice, which is highly unusual for a poet writing in the second half of the twentieth century. Gunn early on came under the influence of the Elizabethan poetsShakespeare, Donne, and Jonson, in which there’s no identifiable personality to the ‘I,’ the voice in the poetry.Even in the most intimate poems, the voice is detached, impersonal. On top of this, Gunn favors what is called the plain style, a taste he picked up from one of his mentors, Yvor Winters. One its chief exemplars is Ben Jonson, a poet Gunn valued very highly and, to anextent, modeled his own work on. The plain style is just that: clear in diction and movement, devoid of rhetoric and poetic figures, inclining toward the way people speak without sounding colloquial.Gunn’s fascination with the city as a backdrop for character and event, along with his anachronistically distanced, rather neutral voice, turned out to be the perfect mix for his poetic witnessing of the plague he was soon to find himself in the midst of.”
Like the FSG poetry blog itself, the aim of our reissue program is to provide an easy entryway into this special world inhabited by some of the most extraordinary poets of the last 60 years…. From John Berryman to James Schuyler, from ElizabethBishop to Robert Lowell and beyond, it's our hope that our volumes—most with new introductions by poets of today—will make it easier for new readers and old to find their way into these extraordinary books. Due to the unique power of the form, most of these works seem to acquire an even greater resonance as time passes.It may just be that the impact of deeply felt, finely wrought language is even more intense in a less literate age."
I cannot believe we have waited four whole days before getting to our first Elizabeth Bishop reference. Shame! The only excuse I have for it is that this recording of Thom Gunn reading Bishop's poems 'Varick Street' and the posthumously published 'Sonnet' is remarkable. I won't do his readings any justice by describing them--no one wants to read a paragraph filled with blathering about pauses between words and lovely British accents--so it's probably best if you just click on the player below. Both were recorded at FSG's 50th anniversary party in 1996.
I couldn't find a copy of 'Varick Street' online (which is where the title of this post comes from), so I've provided a visual tool to the right. If you have, like me, been hauling The Collected Poems from apartment to apartment ever since you bought it for a 100-level course in college because you loved it too much to get rid of, you are all set. The poem is on page 179. For everyone else, you can buythebook if you prefer your poems in written form.
This is a bit embarrassing to mention, but the poet Thom Gunn(1929-2004) is a relatively new discovery of mine. When I embarked on this poetry recording project, back in October, I had read only a few of his poems. Luckily for me, August Kleinzahler volunteered to be one of the first poets to come into the studio, and in addition to his own poem, he chose to read a work by Gunn--a tense and evocative piece titled 'Moly.' I was smitten.
I've been devouring Gunn's work since then, and I feel very lucky to have found in the FSG vault (buried between Tom Wolfe's old white suits and an unpublished Jonathan Franzen novel) a recording of Gunn reading at our 50th Anniversary party, back in 1996. I'm going to split it into two posts for you. This first is Gunn reading his own poem 'Night Taxi,' where the title of this post can be found.