In “The Letters of Thom Gunn”, an unusual mixture of pleasures

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The joys of a long-time home are recognized. Gunn looks at the lemon tree in his garden, fully grown and bearing fruit, and recalls that a friend first grew the seed 25 years ago, in a pot on the kitchen table of an old apartment. .

Other enthusiasms are maintained. Gunn loved movies, of all kinds. “Drugstore Cowboy” is so excellent, and so true to the addict experience, he wrote, that “you’re happy to be a member of the human race that produced it.”

Her crush on Keanu Reeves is a sunny little theme in these letters. Gunn called him “a complete darling”. Later, after Reeves appeared in a string of mediocre movies, Gunn wrote, “I’m starting to think Keanu doesn’t care about his career at all, he’s looking for someone like me but can’t find him. Hey Keanu, I’m here! HERE! If you ring my doorbell, I’ll show you around the whole house!

He was engaged in music, high and low. “Eleanor Rigby” almost brought her to tears. He saw Hendrix live and attended Altamont. I had to laugh when I read, in a letter from 1975: “Did I tell you about BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN? 2 records, and the best new singer since – who shall I say? Elton John maybe.

Gunn did not have a particularly extensive correspondence, at least as evidenced by this dense collection of over 700 pages, which the editors tell us is about a tenth of the total. Most are with the same handful of friends. There are rocket-shaped cameos. The best belongs to young Oliver Sacks, whose full name was Oliver Wolf Sacks. He was a Gunn fan.

Here is how it is presented, in a 1961 letter: “There is a colossal, colossal London Jew called Wolf, a medical student and friend of Jonathan Miller, who says my poetry has changed his life — that brought to take a bike and wear leather, and it rips like a whirlwind.

Sacks and Gunn were briefly lovers, then lifelong friends. Gunn watched with a mixture of pleasure and admiration as Sacks’ career as a neurologist, naturalist, and writer developed.


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