An Introduction to Amanda Gunn by Dora Malech

Amanda Gunn is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard studying Black poetics and Black pleasure. The poems featured here in Tupelo Quarterly are part of a series that Gunn has said she thinks of as her “Chronic” series; other poems from the series appeared in The Kenyon Review last year. Here, the poems’ clean, rigid left and right margins function as a kind of clinical containment of the unruly stream-of-consciousness within. Symptoms, medication, and side-effects blur into the solace of things, as the spiraling specificity (the stuffed penguin of “The Name For,” the romance novels and characters of “Good Romance,” the perfumes and vibrators and lube of “Level”) thrills and unsettles in its breathless intensity. 

It is, however, a testament to the scope and ambition of Gunn’s poetry that describing and lauding this series doesn’t even begin to sum up or enumerate the strengths and subjects of her body of work. Here, as elsewhere, Gunn’s formal decisions enable a reader to feel and think with and through her – but where this series pulls a reader along on a wave of run-on and ampersand, elsewhere, the rhythms and turns of a sonnet or Bishop-esque immersion in a scene might do the work. While embodiment is a through-line, her poems explore (and interweave) subjects that include race, gender, sexuality, history, nationhood, family, illness, cognition, pleasure, and shame. Gunn’s is a poetics both carefully studied and wildly intuitive, a language of both pyrotechnics and searing flame.