In Colm Tóibín’s revelatory keynote address to launch Session Two of the thirty-first annual Key West Literary Seminar last night, he shared his experience of reading and identifying with the works of the English poet Thom Gunn and Elizabeth Bishop, who did much of her best work on this subtropical island.
Tóibín opened the talk, titled “On Grief and Reason,” by recounting an interview in which Gunn referenced “The Gas Poker,” one of the few poems he had written about his mother, who had committed suicide when Gunn was a boy. “Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone’s life,” Gunn had said of finding the body. “I wasn’t able to write about it ’til just a few years ago. Finally I found the way to do it was really obvious: to withdraw the first person, and to write about it in the third-person. Then it became easy, because it was no longer about myself.”