Friday, April 30, 2004

Thom Gunn R.I.P.

Thomson William Gunn (1929-2004)

The world of contemporary poetry lost one of its greatest practitioners this past week. Since the appearance of his first collection “Fighting Terms” in 1954 through his last “Boss Cupid” in 2000, Gunn remained one the most compelling voices of his generation. Innovator and traditionalist, this transplanted Englishman balanced his natural reticence with his exuberant adopted California life.

I sincerely regret missing his reading a couple of years ago at Miami University. He will be missed.

One of my favourites:

“All Do Not All Things Well”

Implies that some therefore
Do well, for its own sake,
One thing they undertake,
Because it has enthralled them.

I used to like the two
Auto freaks as I called them
Who laboured in their driveway,
Its concrete black with oil,
In the next block that year.

One, hurt in jungle war,
Had a false leg, the other
Raised a huge beard above
A huge Hell’s Angel belly.

They seem to live on beer
And corn chips from the deli.

Always with friends, they sprawled
Beneath a ruined car
In that inert but live way
Of scrutinizing innards.
And one week they extracted
An engine to examine,
Transplant shining like tar
Fished out into the sun.

‘It’s all that I enjoy,’
Said the stiff-legged boy.
That was when the officious
Realtor had threatened them
For brashly operating
A business on the street
- An outsider, that woman
Who wanted them evicted,
Wanted the neighbourhood neat
To sell it. That was when
The boy from Vietnam told me
That he’d firebomb her car.
He didn’t of course, she won.

I am sorry that they went.
Quick with a friendly greeting,
They were gentle joky men
- Certainly not ambitious,
Perhaps not intelligent
Unless about a car,
Their work one thing they knew
They could for certain do
With a disinterest
And passionate expertise
To which they gave their best
Desires and energies.
Such oily-handed zest
By-passed the self like love.
I thought they were good
For any neighbourhood.

His obituary appeared in the Guardian.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I hope to be returning May 1st.
If you have a chance, check out my website at Barney F. McClelland