Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gunn Over California

With a double tip of the hat to Books Inq and the Literary Hub, here's a poem by Thom Gunn from the newly published New Selected Poems – Flying Above California...

Spread beneath me it lies—lean upland
sinewed and tawny in the sun, and
valley cool with mustard, or sweet with
loquat. I repeat under my breath
names of places I have not been to:
Crescent City, San Bernardino
—Mediterranean and Northern names.
Such richness can make you drunk. Sometimes
on fogless days by the Pacific,
there is a cold hard light without break
that reveals merely what is—no more
and no less. That limiting candour,
that accuracy of the beaches,
is part of the ultimate richness.


This is a sonnet, but not as we know it – seven half-rhymed couplets, with enjambment galore and the turn at the end of line seven, dividing the poem into two equal, but very different, halves. A formalist to his fingertips, Gunn pulls off tricks like this as if he hadn't even noticed. 'That limiting candour, that accuracy of the beaches' – oh yes.

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