Lining up with cds in HMV, I noticed a cheap Thom Gunn I’d recently read was a great poet. I picked him up like a bag of crisps at Tesco’s self-service. Poetry’s a quick read I don’t dwell on, while noticing en passant the poet’s American pronunciation of ‘route’, if it were to rhyme. I did brake on ‘I feel a is it’, which didn’t make sense. Words must’ve dropped out. I tried working out what they’d be. After ‘feel’, an emotion or motion of some kind. I couldn’t think what so emailed the publisher to find out what the line was in the original publication the cheap one had cannibalised.
A nice girl replied the poetry editor said it was the same in the original and was as the poet intended. ‘I feel a is it’ goes well beyond slipshod. What surprised me a bit was that the poetry editor then hadn’t questioned the line to the poet and that no reader had since until me.
I went back to the poem. The line before has ‘slowly’ before ‘I feel’, and the poem before ‘I feel a is it’ has ‘numb’, ‘frost’, ‘chilly’ and afterwards ‘warmth’. The line is pivotal, turning gradually from chill to warmth. ‘Thaw’ I thought. Then, since there’s no new sentence, a conjunction, the most appropriate being ‘but’ because the poem is uncertain whether the warmth is physical or emotional. ‘I feel a [thaw but] is it/my own warmth surfacing or. With the intrusive English r after ‘thaw’, provided the poet had retained his pronunciation of that word, ‘thaw’ would also be an internal rhyme with ‘or’. There isn’t, however, a question mark at the end of the sentence and stanza which is more musing than so definitely asking that the poet would’ve remembered it was a question and not a statement.
Conjecture’s almost always wrong. If I were the poetry editor of Faber I’d email the archivist who’s in charge of that poem’s manuscript and ask what’s actually written third stanza, second line beginning ‘I feel’ of the poem, ‘Touch’. The archivist will be delighted her existence is thus justified. If I’d been the poetry editor of Faber I’d’ve asked the poet himself.