Thom Gunn Letters Colm Toibin on Thom Gunn Letters, edited by Michael Nott, August Kleinzahler and Clive Wilmer (Faber) £40
Even his name was a work in progress. On a facsimile of the first folio text of ‘Julius Caesar’, he signed himself Thomson William Gunn and added the date, October 1944, which means he was fifteen. On the first page of his copy of ‘The Poems of Alfred Tennyson 1830–1863’, he signed his name T.W. Gunn and gave the address as Covey Hall, Snodland, Kent, the house where he and his brother lived after their mother’s suicide in December 1944. In August 1947, when he was seventeen, he signed his name a simple Tom Gunn on the first page of his copy of ‘The British Drama’.
His sexual identity, in these early years, was also open to suggestion. John Lehmann was the first editor outside Cambridge to take anything he had written. In his short essay in tribute to Lehmann, Gunn admitted that he had ‘conveniently blocked…from memory’ what they spoke about in 1954 when they met for the first time. But Lehmann remembered. In the middle of talk about poetry, it seems, Gunn blurted out ‘that being published nationally didn’t mean that I was going to have anything to do with London homosexuals
.’ When Lehmann, who was homosexual, reminded him of this, Gunn wondered: ‘And what did
I want or mean by it… I who surely knew what I was about sexually by this time, in fact going about everywhere with my lover?’
Lehmann would not, Gunn added, have recognized the remark about London homosexuals ‘as a current tag from the followers of Leavis’, F.R. Leavis being one of Gunn’s teachers at Cambridge. ‘Oh