Friday, September 14, 2018

Poetry and life …

… Colm Tóibín reviews ‘Selected Poems’ by Thom Gunn — LRB 13 September 2018. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In his introduction, Wilmer writes that in 1965 he lent Gunn copies of Sylvia Plath’s last poems. When he returned them, Gunn wrote that they ‘make a kind of rambling hysterical monologue, which is fine for people who believe in art as Organic but less satisfactory for those who demand more’. He admired ‘some incredibly beautiful passages’, but felt that ‘the trouble is with the emotion, itself, really: it is largely one of hysteria, and it is amazing that her hysteria has produced poetry as good as this. I think there’s a tremendous danger in the fact that we know she committed suicide. If they were anonymous poems I wonder how we’d take them.’ In The Alvarez Generation, Wootten quotes the opening two lines of Gunn’s late poem ‘My Mother’s Pride’: ‘She dramatised herself/Without thought of the dangers.’ Gunn’s mother committed suicide in December 1944, when Gunn was 15, by gassing herself, leaving her two sons to find her. Like Plath, she was the mother of two children. As Wootten writes, ‘the connection between one mother who dramatised herself without thought of the dangers, who gassed herself leaving two children behind, and another is not a difficult one to make.’

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