Breakfast with Thom Gunn
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 Gunn is 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
“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.”
“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.”