Breakfast with Thom Gunn

Breakfast with Thom Gunn

by Randall Mann
     
 

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Aubade

Those who lack a talent for love have come

to walk the long Pier 7. Here at the end

of the imagined world are three low-flying gulls

like lies on the surface; the slow red

of a pilot’s boat; the groan

of a fisherman hacking a small shark—

and our speech like the icy water, a poor

translation that will not carry us across.

Overview

Aubade

Those who lack a talent for love have come

to walk the long Pier 7. Here at the end

of the imagined world are three low-flying gulls

like lies on the surface; the slow red

of a pilot’s boat; the groan

of a fisherman hacking a small shark—

and our speech like the icy water, a poor

translation that will not carry us across.

What brought us west, anyway? A hunger.

But ours is no Donner Party, we who feed

only on scenery, the safest form

of obfuscation: see how the bay is a gray

deepening into gray, the color of heartbreak.

           

Randall Mann’s Breakfast with Thom Gunn is a work both direct and unsettling. Haunted by the afterlife of Thom Gunn (1929–2004), one of the most beloved gay literary icons of the twentieth century, the poems are moored in Florida and California, but the backdrop is “pitiless,” the trees “thin and bloodless,” the words “like the icy water” of the San Francisco Bay. Mann, fiercely intelligent, open yet elusive, draws on the “graceful erosion” of both landscape and the body, on the beauty that lies in unbeauty. With audacity, anxiety, and unbridled desire, this gifted lyric poet grapples with dilemmas of the gay self embroiled in—and aroused by—a glittering, unforgiving subculture. Breakfast with Thom Gunnis at once formal and free, forging a sublime integrity in the fire of wit, intensity, and betrayal.

Praise for Complaint in the Garden   

“We have before us a skillful, witty, passionate young poet. . . . Randall Mann is both attuned to and at odds with the natural world; he articulates the passions and predicaments of a self inside a massive, arousing, but sometimes brutal culture. And he accomplishes these things with buoyant lyric sensibilities and rejuvenating skills.”—Kenyon Review

 

 

Editorial Reviews

Antioch Review
[The] bright, ironic surfaces both render bearable Mann's dark vision and somehow exacerbate it—an ambivalence wholly appropriate to such frank, pained poems.

— Benjamin S. Grossberg

Rain Taxi Review of Books
Randall Mann’s second collection of poetry, Breakfast with Thom Gunn—aptly titled for its poetic inheritance of metrical clarity and its address of gay subculture—also uses moments of real social incident, transforming private history into odes to the afflicted. In this work, the many contradictions of desire touch the reader: politics, beauty, God, disease, love, art—all the world’s addictions—and it achieves an entertainment that is satisfying when harsh.”

— Miguel Murphy

Publishers Weekly

Concise, witty and perhaps surprisingly grim, this second collection from Mann (Complaint in the Garden) pays homage to the titular poet, the British-born, San Francisco-resident Thom Gunn (who died in 2004). Mann emulates Gunn's signature virtues: a wry, careful tone; tight rhymed and unrhymed forms; explicit delight in sex between men, and in the modern culture of gay liberation; and an appreciation for the Bay Area. Yet compared to his model, Mann sounds less in love with life, more attentive to death: "I want lust/ as cold, precise and prescriptive/ as the en dash of a dead man," one poem concludes; another, set on Mann's birthday, declares, "If life is ruin,/ then let it burn like Rome." Poems set in Florida, where Mann spent an unhappy youth, pose stark counterpoints to Mann's cityscapes. Arch verses about the poetry industry ("A younger poet wrote to ask/ an older for a blurb") offset what seems most personal elsewhere. Mixing literary sophistication with a visceral self-distrust, even paraphrasing Catullus ("wanting// again, a man I do not want"), Mann makes his dislikes at least as vivid as his admirations. On the whole, the collection is memorable as homage, but surprisingly far from what Gunn himself once named "The Passages of Joy." (Apr.)

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D. A. Powell
“With audacious wit and formal prowess equal to the master to whom he pays homage, Randall Mann has written a book both poignant and humorous, where one minute ‘we stand above it all’ and the next minute we are reading ‘the notes of the drowned.’ Mann invites us a into a ghastly metropolis, its emptiness and ruin nonetheless populated with remarkable sites of grace. If this were only the evacuated city, ‘the nothingness behind us/the nothingness ahead,’ the permanent red of Ilium scattered with fallen bodies, the feral world of nonchalant disease, rent boys and assassins, it would simply be another note of irretrievable loss in the parade of human history. But with purling fountains and lush gardens, Mann reveals the transitory but beguiling beauty that holds despair in abeyance, that reminds us of why desire propels us forward. ‘Soon we will be underground,’ he says, but for now we enjoy the cherries that dangle tantalizingly before us.”

Rain Taxi Review of Books - Miguel Murphy
“Randall Mann’s second collection of poetry, Breakfast with Thom Gunn—aptly titled for its poetic inheritance of metrical clarity and its address of gay subculture—also uses moments of real social incident, transforming private history into odes to the afflicted. In this work, the many contradictions of desire touch the reader: politics, beauty, God, disease, love, art—all the world’s addictions—and it achieves an entertainment that is satisfying when harsh.”

Antioch Review - Benjamin S. Grossberg
"[The] bright, ironic surfaces both render bearable Mann's dark vision and somehow exacerbate it—an ambivalence wholly appropriate to such frank, pained poems."
Lambda Literary Award
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226503448
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
04/01/2009
Series:
Phoenix Poets Series
Pages:
80
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

Randall Mann is a writer and editor who lives in San Francisco. He is the author of Complaint in the Garden, winner of the Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry.

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