A letter from Thom Gunn

A letter from Thom Gunn

Dear Peter —

A hurried note in answer to your card and the kind gift of your book. I like the way your poetry makes its aim to formulate the human uniqueness in its own terms — uniqueness of disposition, of sexuality, of whatever. An anti-generalizing poetry, perhaps. (Someone wrote a book called Homosexualities. I like the assertion that each case is different.)

Here’s something it’s maybe time I bragged about a bit. I was recently contacted by Michael Nott, who is editing Thom Gunn’s Selected Letters, asking if I had any correspondence with him. I’m flattered in the first place that anyone thought I would have, but in fact I did have one letter. It may not make the Selected Letters, as it’s one example of no doubt many encouraging letters to junior poets, but it’s not a bad endorsement.

The letter is tersely dated “Sep 20 / 92” in a style that matches his economical handwriting. I had sent him Peacock Luggage, the joint book that Smith/Doorstop published for me and Moniza Alvi as joint winners of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition. I was planning the second tranche of sabbatical leave from my job in London, to work as an intern on the James White Review in Minneapolis – I’d been there February–March, getting the end of one winter, and about to go October–November to get the beginning of the next. On the first trip I also visited New York, Chicago and San Francisco, and this time I was going to have a longer stay in San Francisco. A reading at A Different Light bookstore was already arranged.

I had met Thom Gunn on a rare visit to London launching The Man with Night Sweats with a reading at Gay’s the Word. At that time the shop published a review-newsletter, for which Paud Hegarty asked if I would write about Gunn’s book, so I had a proof copy and took it along to be signed. This was unusual, and we got chatting, along with Steve Anthony who was with me (we later edited Jugular Defences: An AIDS anthology which appeared in 1994). I must have mentioned that I would be in San Francisco later. Thom Gunn did come to my reading at A Different Light, but he was away teaching in San Diego the rest of my stay. Later when I saw his “At the Post Office” in the Threepenny Review, I asked if we could use it in Jugular Defences and he kindly said yes, as it was uncollected. But I didn’t keep in touch after that.