Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Born Thomson William Gunn, Thom Gunn grew up in the London suburb of Hampstead Heath, “forever grateful” that he was “raised in no religion at all.” During the Blitz, he read John Keats, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and George Meredith, who have all influenced his verse in various ways. His parents—both journalists, although his mother had stopped working before his birth—were divorced when he was eight or nine. After two years in the British army, Gunn went to Paris to work in the offices of the Metro. He attended Trinity College, University of Cambridge, during the early 1950’s; there he attended the lectures of F. R. Leavis and began to write poetry in earnest, publishing his first book, Fighting Terms, in 1954, while still an undergraduate. He worked briefly on the magazine Granta and, as president of the English Club, met and introduced Angus Wilson, Henry Green, Dylan Thomas, and William Empson, among others. Here he also became a pacifist, flirted with socialism, hitchhiked through France during a summer vacation, and met Mike Kitay, his American companion, who influenced his decision to move to the United States.
After graduation, Gunn spent a brief period in Rome and Paris. At the suggestion of the American poet Donald Hall, Gunn applied for and won a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University, where he studied with the formalist poet and critic Yvor Winters. After a short teaching stint in San Antonio, Texas,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Thomson William Gunn was born on August 29, 1929, at Gravesend, a small town in Kent on the Thames. His father, Herbert Gunn, was a successful journalist, and Thom Gunn had a privileged middle-class upbringing that was marred by the divorce of his parents and the death of his mother, Ann Charlotte Thomson Gunn, when Thom was twelve. The family had moved earlier to fashionable Hampstead, nearer London, and Gunn attended University College preparatory school. Gunn did not go immediately to a university after completing secondary school because he was drafted into the British army, in which he served for the required two years. He then entered Cambridge University in 1950, where he read English literature and began writing the poems that would make his reputation. The dominant figure at Cambridge during that period was F. R. Leavis, a critic who stressed the necessity of following tradition; he may have had some influence upon Gunn, but the rule of tradition was alien to Gunn’s exploratory and innovative poetry. Gunn consistently broke away from the mainstream of received critical opinion.
After Cambridge, Gunn went to Stanford University on a creative writing fellowship. At Stanford, he studied under the American poet and critic Yvor Winters. Winters had a great influence upon Gunn, especially in his belief that poetry is made up of logical propositions and...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The publication of Collected Poems established Thom Gunn as a major English poet. He wrote with great skill and precision in traditional and experimental styles. Moreover, he refused to be fixed in one poetic mode or subject. He constantly explored and found new styles and subjects for his poetry. His unique accomplishment was to retain the grace and force of tradition while transcending its thematic confines.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Despite Thom Gunn’s assertion that “my life contains no events,” his career is of the greatest interest to students of modern poetry, since it mirrors significant cultural movements from an Anglo-American perspective. His work, likewise, reflects a fusion of the best in the modern poetic traditions of Britain and the United States.
Thomson William Gunn’s parents were of Scottish origins, both journalists with socialist sympathies. His father became editor of the Daily Sketch, a popular national newspaper. Gunn’s early years were spent moving with his father’s job until the family settled in Hampstead, London. His parents divorced in 1938; his mother died when he was fifteen. After graduating from University College School, he did compulsory National Service for two years before proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1950.
While there, he met a group of young poets and became committed to poetry as a vocation. He was particularly influenced by the lectures of F. R. Leavis, a brilliant teacher and critic. Gunn’s first volume of poetry, Fighting Terms, consists of poetry written at this time and demonstrates the technical mastery of a wide range of verse forms typical of all of his poetry. After graduating in 1953, he received a creative writing fellowship at Stanford University in California and,...
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Thompson William Gunn was born in Gravesend, Kent, England, on August 29, 1929. His parents, both journalists, relocated to the London suburb of Hempstead Heath, where they outlasted the Blitz and the rigors of the war. His late teens saw a stint in the British Army and a brief period living and working in Paris. It was there that Gunn made his first serious foray into writing, reading the French masters and trying his hand at fiction. In the early 1950s, he attended Trinity College at Cambridge and published his first collection of verse, Fighting Terms, while still an undergraduate. A creative writing fellowship at Stanford University brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1954. In 1958, Gunn accepted an offer to teach at the University of California at Berkeley, all the time keeping one ear tuned to the sexual and cultural revolution sweeping through San Francisco and the nation. After a year in London, Gunn gave up the university post in 1966, teaching briefly at Princeton University and immersing himself in the rhythms of New York City’s bohemian enclave, Greenwich Village.
Despite the move to the East Coast, Gunn would not stray from San Francisco for long. His more than thirty books of poetry and prose bear witness to an ever-evolving style of clarity and emotional honesty. Gunn could be best described as an Anglo-American poet, known for his interest in both traditional and free verse and the facility with which he moves between the...
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