Thom Gunn and Anglo-American Modernism

Keith Tuma

in At the Barriers

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780226890432
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226890371 | DOI:
Thom Gunn and Anglo-American Modernism

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Keith Tuma takes a distinctively broad view by looking at Gunn's identity as an Anglo-American poet through the lens of British and American modernism; August Kleinzahler extends the discussion specifically in relation to Gunn's style, but also by turning our attention to poems by Charles Baudelaire, who remained an influence on Gunn throughout his life, and long after the grip of French existentialism had loosened. Much as Gunn never became a citizen—he is not an “Anglo-American” in that sense—but remained an Englishman living in America, his poetry is never far removed from its origins in England, even as it successfully incorporates, as only a few English poets of his generation do, the American modernism of poets such as William Carlos Williams. Gunn was able to sustain a sizable readership on both sides of the Atlantic, something few poets in recent years have managed, and this fact is arguably a consequence of what I am pointing to here: his ability to modify his practice without giving up its core values. His visibility as a poet, however, did not mean that he was able altogether to avoid the rhetoric that has sometimes posed Americans against English poetry (English more often than “British,” though the terms are still too often confused) in recent decades. Whatever we choose to make of Gunn's example, Gunn himself seems to have had little interest in complicating the familiar story about English and American poetry.

Keywords: Anglo-American; modernism; American poetry; English poetry; Thom Gunn; poetry

Chapter.  7270 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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