Gunn is teaching The Occasions of Poetry, from to p.m. With his trademark black leather jacket slung over his chair, he gives them Ezra Pound’s Canto XLVII as a reading assignment.
“It’s enough to make one consider whether one wants this course or not,” he mutters. Read it the following day.” Gunn himself remembers some inspiring teaching decades ago on the Farm, when he was a student of poet and critic Yvor Winters.
“What I’m asking you to do is give it a chance,” he exhorts the class. He finds it impossible to describe Winters’s effect on his own work.
“It’s like saying ‘What influence did your mother have on you? “Winters was taken very much as a father figure by all the students who admired him—one student who fell in love presented the young man to Winters for approval. I hope they got married and are still very happy.” As the students discuss the “edgy” names of characters in one of the poems they are reading, the rolled-up cuffs on Gunn’s white shirt inch upward, revealing one end of the long black panther tattooed on his arm. For example, his most recent collection, (2000), includes five controversial “songs,” as he calls them, about cannibalistic serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer.
He shares this apartment with longtime companion Mike Kitay and a few more friends.
“No other poet has so vividly captured so much of Bay Area experience—from San Francisco street life to the surrounding natural world,” says Dana Gioia, ’73, MBA ’77, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Gunn was the first poet to receive the lifetime achievement prize whose previous winners include V. Naipaul, Harold Pinter, Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing. “Drink and drugs and presents for my friends.” Gunn has been the man-of-the-moment on more than one occasion: first, beginning in the 1950s, as the poet who wrote about motorcycle gangs and rock stars in iambic pentameter.
“It was a great surprise, because I never heard of it,” he says. “He is clearly England’s most important export since Auden,” proclaimed the Opinion shifted again with the onslaught of AIDS in the 1980s. Things people died of in my parents’ generation, no one died of now.
They’re poems comfortable with the street and also with literature,” says Fried. Afterwards, Gunn grabs the leather jacket and heads for the Oval.
“I get this tremendous feeling of the poet in the world, in proximity to humanity, unfiltered.” One of the students in the class describes Fried’s poetry as “accessible,” and Gunn pounces softly, edgily, like the panther on his arm.
You couldn’t say the same for the ladies, what with that Madonna-whore complex running rampant through noir’s icky Freudian gender dynamics.
Unless they were a good, subservient girl, women were brazen, sexual bitches, more often than not smarter, and more powerful, than the guys—at least at the outset.
We think of a never-ending, rain-soaked night—sunlight replaced with neon and nocturnal reflections, the optical trickery of mirrors and shadows—but in contrast, the days of noir scorched its characters.