Although Thom Gunn grew upin England, he prefers the United States, where he has lived for nearly five decades. In the 1950s his poetry celebrated “toughs” who were antisocial, self-destructive, even criminal, but before long he celebrated the opposite: friendship, tenderness, community. He unapologetically describes himself as a “rather derivative poet,” although most writers would repudiate such a label. In Gunn's poetry one detects traces of surprisingly disparate writers: Shakespeare and Baudelaire, Donne and Whitman, Yeats and Ginsberg. And although his poems can be complex, they tend to be more accessible than intimidating. Dana Gioia's description (1999) is apt: “Gunn is the prince of paradox, the quintessential San Franciscan who still holds a British passport, a romantic entranced by classical control, an experimentalist who never renounced rhyme and meter, and [an] anti-authoritarian populist with mandarin standards.”Less
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