Skip to main content

At the Barriers

On the Poetry of Thom Gunn

At the Barriers

On the Poetry of Thom Gunn

Maverick gay poetic icon Thom Gunn (1929–2004) and his body of work have long dared the British and American poetry establishments either to claim or disavow him. To critics in the UK and US alike, Gunn demonstrated that formal poetry could successfully include new speech rhythms and open forms and that experimental styles could still maintain technical and intellectual rigor. Along the way, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the 1960s, the existential possibilities of the late twentieth century, and the tumult of post-Stonewall gay culture.

The first book-length study of this major poet, At the Barriers surveys Gunn’s career from his youth in 1930s Britain to his final years in California, from his earliest publications to his later unpublished notebooks, bringing together some of the most important poet-critics from both sides of the Atlantic to assess his oeuvre. This landmark volume traces how Gunn, in both his life and his writings, pushed at boundaries of different kinds, be they geographic, sexual, or poetic. At the Barriers will solidify Gunn’s rightful place in the pantheon of Anglo-American letters.

344 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


“Gunn would be an important figure—rewarding, delightful, accomplished, enduring—in the history of English-language poetry even were his life not as fascinating as it now seems; he would be an important figure in the history of gay writing and in the history of transatlantic literary relations even were his poetry not so good as it is. With his life as it was and his works as they are, he’s an obvious candidate for a volume of retrospective and critical essays, and this one is first-rate.”

Stephen Burt, Harvard University

“Since his death in 2004, poetry on both sides of the Atlantic has missed Thom Gunn—his gusto, his candor, his tact, his persistent doubleness, his unfolding sympathies, his freedom from fixed ideas. This important collection of critical prose, a tribute, a reappraisal, and an extension of his life and work, returns Gunn to our attention in his living power. Poetry will be glad of it.”

Langdon Hammer

“Academically pith and wise, [At the Barriers is] scholarship that’s heartfelt, intellectually rigorous, yet rarely wandering into academic lexicons that might alienate a wider readership. . . . I could not embrace Gunn’s work as fully if it were not for this deeply moving tribute that serves as a model of literary criticism: it helps us love more intelligently.”

Michael Morse | Provincetown Arts

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Joshua Weiner

PART I            In England

Eavan Boland
All That You Praise I Take: A Glimpse of the Young Thom Gunn

Neil Powell
Young Gunn: Coming Out Fighting

Alfred Corn
Existentialism and Homosexuality in Gunn’s Early Poetry

Clive Wilmer
Gunn, Shakespeare, and the Elizabethans

PART TWO    Across the Water

August Kleinzahler
Thom Gunn: The Plain Style and the City

Keith Tuma
Thom Gunn and Anglo-American Modernism

Joshua Weiner
From Ladd’s Hill to Land’s End (and Back Again): Narrative, Rhythm, and the Transatlantic Occasions of “Misanthropos”

Thom Gunn
Two Versions of “Meat”

Joshua Weiner
Gunn’s “Meat”: Notations on Craft


John Peck
Summation and Chthonic Power

Brian Teare
Our Dionysian Experiment: Three Theses on the Poetry of Thom Gunn 0

PART FOUR   Of the World

Tom Sleigh
Thom Gunn’s New Jerusalem

David Gewanter
Domains of Ecstasy

Paul Muldoon
Considering “Considering the Snail”

Wendy Lesser
Thom Gunn’s “Duncan”

Robert Pinsky
Coda: Thom Gunn, Inside and Outside

List of Contributors
Index of Names

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press