Thom Gunn's 'Black Jackets'

Thom Gunn (1929-2004)

Gunn’s ‘Collected poems’ is a record of almost fifty years of poetry, from the early attempts to be the twentieth century’s most Elizabethan poet to the Californian requiems of ‘The Man with Night Sweats’.

My first encounter with Gunn’s poetry was a frustrated inability to write an analysis of this poem. I was 14 at the time and It was ‘homwework’ and I remember being baffled, utterly, completely baffled, by the first word of the second line; ‘Rawly’. It slithered around refusing to behave. At the time I doubt I even knew what an adverb was. I hated the poem, the task, and my inability to make sense of English words.

Now ‘Rawly’s’ not a problem, but it’s a reminder that learning how to read poems is a life long process. I don’t think that writing essays or ‘analysing’ them according to whatever process is currently fashionable is the best way do this.