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New Left Review I/12, November-December 1961

Michael Fried

A Question of Form

My Sad Captains, by Thom Gunn

Faber, 16s.

there is in this country a noticeable tendency for critics who are themselves sensitive to social questions to found judgments of artistic excellence on largely ideological grounds. This was the case when Auden began publishing in the early 30’s; while in our own time it is the young English poet Thom Gunn who has received similar treatment. It is the intention of this review therefore to discuss Gunn’s most recent book of poems, My Sad Captains, chiefly from the point of view of verse technique: in the conviction that no degree of congruence between a poet’s attitudes and the commitments of a particular group or party excuses bad writing; and that it is the chief task of the critic of any age, however politically embattled, to defend certain standards of excellence that are always at least formal.

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Michael Fried, ‘A Question of Form’, NLR I/12: £3

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