Archive for June 27th, 2016

Mike Kitay remembers poet Thom Gunn: “He liked to clown around.”

Monday, June 27th, 2016
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gunn3Poet Thom Gunn left England for America in 1954. A big part of his reason for departure was Mike Kitay. They lived together until the poet’s death in 2004. I had to reach Kitay last week. But how? I phoned the old phone number I had kept since the time I interviewed Thom in August 2003. To my surprise, the famous address on San Francisco’s Cole Street still had the same phone number and, even more to my surprise, the cordial Kitay picked up the phone.

Anyway, the search led me to this interesting piece he wrote in The Threepenny Review, in the summer of 2005 (a few months after my Q&A with Thom Gunn ran in The Georgia Review). A few excerpts, in case you missed it a decade ago:

At home, if you didn’t know who he was, you’d never guess. He liked to clown around. He’d do his Vincent Price limp; his Instant Face Lift; make one of many rude sounds. His energy was awesome and he did a kind of tap dance with a big finish: one hand over his head, he’d twirl around. If you didn’t laugh, he’d twirl the other way and add a curtsy.

***

After he retired, Thom kept saying how happy he was. He said it often; too often and too loudly. He wanted to have A Good Time and he wanted to have A Good Time the way he’d always had A Good Time. But he was seventy now, a seventy-year-old gay man. Healthy, yes; lucky, yes; but still…

And he couldn’t write.

***

Thom was easily bored but slow to anger. I can’t think of a time when he lost his temper. When he got angry with me, he didn’t let on. He didn’t like shows of emotion. He didn’t like problems. And most certainly he didn’t like to talk about problems, which was a problem for me: I’m Jewish.

***

When people asked me right after he died if there was going to be a service for him, I thought: They’re kidding, right? A service? For Thom? He’d turn over in his urn! But what if there had been? Would I have said anything? “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”? And I choke up. Because one morning, less than a year before he died, out of the overcast gray sky, Thom told me how little he liked those lines, how sentimental they were. “That may be,” I said, “but they work; they make me cry.” “That may be, but what do they mean? Angels! Really. Flights of angels.” Well, perhaps; but I think of those lines now, and of him, and I cry.

Read the whole thing here.