For more than a year, I’ve been trying to track down the work of a once-acclaimed, then obscure American poet: Dunstan Thompson. It started when I read one of his poems that was re-published in a review of Dunstan Thompson: On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master. I think that was 2011 or 2012.
I found a copy of his 1943 collection called simply Poems. Back then, he wrote in a densely-packed web of images which were beautiful but not quite what drew me to his work. I also picked up his novel The Dove with the Bough of Olive and a travelogue The Phoenix in the Desert which were positively inexpensive.
But I figured what I really wanted was his later work, published posthumously as Poems 1950-1974, called “The Red Book” because of its dust cover. In July I heard that The St. Austin Review might have copies of it, so I contacted someone there. After assuring me that he’d let me know when he spoke to the supplier, I heard nothing and follow-up inquiries went unanswered. That was in August.
I started checking online bookstores, finding nothing but Dove and Phoenix – at slightly higher prices. I came across more expensive copies of Poems (1943) and a single sticker-shock-inducing Lament for the Sleepwalker (1947).**
I wasn’t sure what was happening to the prices. Unbeknownst to me, in September the editor and literary critic Gregory Wolfe published a compilation Here at Last is Love: Selected Poems of Dunstan Thompson. The obscure poet was getting some well-deserved notice in the US.***
I finally started finding the Red Book on used bookstore lists. Problem was, the lowest price was over $350! Then just after I bought Here at Last on Amazon, I was prompted to check out a copy – for less than $35. I thought it was a typo. No – it was a bookstore in England, where Thompson lived and died in relative obscurity.
So – at last!- I got the elusive Red Book. I’d heard that Thompson’s later poetry was “less baroque, more classical” but really his style is something in-between. The nine parts of his long poem Magdalen go from rhymes to free verse and ends with a prayer.
I’m greatly enjoying this volume. It was well worth the wait.
**How expensive was it? I don’t recall except that it was only a hundred dollars or so less than the price of a new stove!
***Fun fact: Here at Last is Love is available new at its $22 list price, but it’s already appearing on used books listing for $115 or more! Crazy, isn’t it?