On Randall Mann
Despite the title, it's less the late poet Thom Gunn who haunts these pages than the same old unknowable gods - love, fate, and lust among them - of which Gunn wrote so beautifully. So does Mann; this, his second book, is set in gay social scenes in Florida and California.
And as Mann demonstrates in these compact, ringing lyrics, love gets even more complicated when whom you love has political implications: "The city lights are on / for us, to us, tonight." I knew little of Randall Mann before reading this book. From now on, I will be listening.
On Jack Gilbert
Jack Gilbert would be the Leonard Cohen of poetry if Cohen didn't already write poetry: the spare life in exotic locales, lust for women conflated with a pseudo-Buddhist spiritual yearning. Gilbert's poems are often elegies, and many here fit the bill, often elegizing a remembered Pittsburgh childhood.
Some of these -- "Dreaming at the Ballet," "The Dangers of Wisdom" -- display a fierceness reminiscent of W.B. Yeats. Yet some risk self-parody. The word "love" shows up often, but in this book Gilbert is better on the thrill and ache of lust won and lost. If there is indeed a "secret chord," Gilbert may find it yet.