Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Carnal Knowledge - Thom Gunn

Gunn (1929 -2004), as mentioned with his first poem here, has always dazzled me with a seemingly effortless ability to express his subjects while dressing them in the uniforms of a particular poetic style and/orform.  (I don't believe one has to be a writer of poetry to appreciate the difficulties involved, but it helps.)  This poem is a solid example: note the rhyming scheme used and then think about what it takes to convey what you want expressed using that scheme!  Makes my head spin: it's a world away in complexity and elegance from "moon, June, croon", country and western songs, and what often passes for poetry by people who write - but don't read - poetry (one of my pet peeves)....  His "love poems" - they are really more than that- are dark and, I believe, informed by the dynamics of his sexual orientation and community (gay).  There's an edge to them, a wedding of anger and sadness, and their truth about the range of unlovely emotions "love" can stir is harshReading his "take" on relationships and love -  including this one, but particularly Mementos I, which I'll include later - brings to mind that plea by a young fan of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson about Jackson's role in baseball's famous "Black Sox"game-fixing scandal: "Say it aint so, Joe!"..... Say it ain't so, Thom....
Carnal Knowledge

Even in bed I pose: desire may grow
More circumstantial and less circumspect
Each night, but an acute girl would suspect
That my self is not like my body, bare.
I wonder if you know, or, knowing, care?
You know I know you know I know you know.

I am not what I seem, believe me, so
For the magnanimous pagan I pretend
Substitute a forked creature as your friend.
When darkness lies without a roll or stir
Flaccid, you want a competent poseur.
I know you now I know you know I know.

Cackle you hen, and answer when I crow.
No need to grope: I’m still playing the same
Comical act inside the tragic game.
Yet things perhaps are simpler: could it be
A mere tear-jerker void of honesty?
You know I know you know I know you know.

Leave me. Within a minute I will stow
Your greedy mouth, but will not yet to grips.
‘There is a space between the breast and lips.’
Also a space between the thighs and head,
So great, we might as well not be in bed.
I know you know I know you know I know.

I hardly hope for happy thoughts, although
In a most happy sleeping time I dreamt
We did not hold each other in contempt.
Then lifting from my lids night’s penny weights
I saw that lack of love contaminates.
You know I know you know I know you know.

Abandon me to stammering, and go;
If you have tears, prepare to cry elsewhere –
I know of no emotion we can share.
Your intellectual protests are a bore
And even now I pose, so now go, for
I know you know.
                                                                                   Thom Gunn - American

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