Thom Gunn

Thomson William "Thom" Gunn (29 August 1929 – 25 April 2004), was an English poet who was praised for his early verses in England, where he was associated with The Movement and his later poetry in America, even after moving toward a looser, free-verse style. After relocating from England to San Francisco, Gunn wrote about gay-related topics—particularly in his most famous work, The Man With Night Sweats in 1992—as well as drug use, sex and his bohemian lifestyle. He won major literary awards and his best poems have a compact philosophical elegance[1].

Life and career

Gunn was born in Gravesend, Kent, England, the son of Bert Gunn. Both of his parents were journalists. They divorced when he was 10 years old. When he was a teenager his mother killed herself. It was she who had sparked in him a love of reading, including an interest in the work of Christopher Marlowe, John Keats, John Milton, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, along with several prose writers. In his youth, he attended University College School in Hampstead, London, then spent two years in the British national service and six months in Paris. Later, he studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated in 1953, and published his first collection of verse, Fighting Terms, the following year. Among several critics who praised the work, John Press wrote, "This is one of the few volumes of postwar verse that all serious readers of poetry need to possess and to study."[2]

As a young man, he wrote poetry associated with The Movement and, later, with the work of Ted Hughes. Gunn's poetry, together with that of Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, and other members of The Movement, has been described as "...emphasizing purity of diction and a neutral tone...encouraging a more spare language and a desire to represent a seeing of the world with fresh eyes."[3][4]

In 1954, Gunn emigrated to the United States to teach writing at Stanford University and to remain close to his partner, Mike Kitay, whom he had met while at college. Gunn and Kitay continued to reside together until Gunn's death.[5] While at Stanford he taught a class called "The Occasions of Poetry".[6] Gunn taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1958 to 1966 and again from 1973 to 2000.[7] He was "an early fan" of the radical gay sex documentary zine Straight to Hell.[8]

In April 2004, he died of acute polysubstance abuse, including methamphetamine, at his home in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood in San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960.[9]


During the 1960s and 1970s, his verse became increasingly bold in its exploration of drugs, homosexuality, and poetic form. He enjoyed the bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco so much that Edmund White described him as "the last of the commune dwellers [...] serious and intellectual by day and druggy and sexual by night". While he continued to sharpen his use of the metrical forms that characterised his early career, he became more and more interested in syllabics and free verse. "He's possibly the only poet to have written a halfway decent quintain while on LSD, and he's certainly one of the few to profess genuine admiration for both [Yvor] Winters (the archformalist) and Allen Ginsberg (the arch ... well, Allen Ginsberg)", critic Daniel Orr has written. "This is, even for the poetry world, a pretty odd background."[10]

In classic verse forms, like the terza rima of Dante, he explored modern anxieties:

It is despair that nothing cannot be
Flares in the mind and leaves a smoky mark
Of dread.
       Look upward. Neither firm nor free
Purposeless matter hovers in the dark.

— "The Annihilation of Nothing"

Gunn, who praised his Stanford mentor Yvor Winters for keeping "both Rule and Energy in view, / Much power in each, most in the balanced two," found a productive tension – rather than imaginative restriction – in the technical demands of traditional poetic forms. He is one of the few contemporary poets (James Merrill would be another) to write serious poetry in heroic couplets – a form whose use in the twentieth century is generally restricted to light verse and epigrammatic wit. In the 1960s, however, he came to experiment increasingly with free verse, and the discipline of writing to a specific set of visual images, coupled with the liberation of free verse, constituted a new source of rule and energy in Gunn's work: a poem such as "Pierce Street" in his next collection, Touch (1967), has a grainy, photographic fidelity, while the title-poem uses hesitant, sinuous free verse to portray a scene of newly acknowledged intimacy shared with his sleeping lover (and the cat).

The poet's major stylistic change in his shift toward free verse roughly within a decade that included much of the 1960s, combined with the other changes in his life — his move from England to America, from academic Cambridge to bohemian San Francisco, his becoming openly gay, his drug-taking, his writing about the "urban underbelly" — caused many to conjecture how his lifestyle was affecting his work. "British reviewers who opposed Gunn's technical shifts blamed California, just as American critics would, later on, connect his adventurous lifestyle with his more 'relaxed' versification," according to Orr, who added that even as of 2009, critics were contrasting "Gunn's libido with his tight metrics — as if no one had ever written quatrains about having sex before".[10]

In Gunn's next book, Jack Straw's Castle (1976), the dream modulates into nightmare, related partly to his actual anxiety-dreams about moving house, and partly to the changing American political climate. "But my life," he wrote, "insists on continuities — between America and England, between free verse and metre, between vision and everyday consciousness."

The Passages of Joy reaffirmed those continuities: it contains sequences about London in 1964–65 and about time spent in New York in 1970. The Occasions of Poetry, a selection of his essays and introductions, appeared at the same time.

Ten years were to pass before his next and most famous collection, The Man With Night Sweats (1992), dominated by AIDS-related elegies.[10] Neil Powell praised the book: "Gunn restores poetry to a centrality it has often seemed close to losing, by dealing in the context of a specific human catastrophe with the great themes of life and death, coherently, intelligently, memorably. One could hardly ask for more." As a result of the book, Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1993.[2] Although AIDS was a focus of much of his later work, he remained HIV-negative himself.[9]

That year, Gunn published a second collection of occasional essays, Shelf Life, and his substantial Collected Poems, which David Biespiel hailed as a highlight of the century's poetry: "Thom Gunn is a poet of 'comradely love.' Compassion has always been his domain and his work's principal emotion. If 20th century verse written in English can be seen as a battle between memory and voice - between the phenomena and its history, on the one hand, and the poet's conviction and feeling about it, on the other - then Gunn's importance lies in the accuracy with which he unifies the language and emotion of experience. You're not sure where one ends and the other starts. The result is that his poems find the limits of their imaginative territory and then push beyond that." [11] His final book of poetry was Boss Cupid (2000).[2]

In 2003 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature together with Beryl Bainbridge. He also received the Levinson Prize, an Arts Council of Great Britain Award, a Rockefeller Award, the W. H. Smith Award, the PEN (Los Angeles) Prize for Poetry, the Sara Teasdale Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, the Forward Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations.[2] He won Publishing Triangle's inaugural Triangle Award for Gay Poetry in 2001 for Boss Cupid; following his death, the award was renamed the Thom Gunn Award in his memory.

Five years after his death, a new edition of Gunn's Selected Poems was published, edited by August Kleinzahler.


The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017.[12][13] One of the works of art is metal bootprints along the curb which honor 28 people (including Gunn) who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco.[13][12]


Literary works
  • 1954: Fighting Terms,[2] Fantasy Press, Oxford
  • 1957: The Sense of Movement,[2] Faber, London
  • 1961: My Sad Captains and Other Poems,[2] Faber, London
  • 1962: Selected poems by Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes,[2] Faber, London
  • 1967: Touch[2]
  • 1971: Moly[2]
  • 1974: To the Air[2]
  • 1976: Jack Straw's Castle[2]
  • 1979: Selected Poems 1950–1975[2]
  • 1982: The Occasions of Poetry, essays (US edition, 1999)
  • 1982: Talbot Road[14]
  • 1982: The Passages of Joy[2]
  • 1982: "The Menace" (published by ManRoot in San Francisco)
  • 1986: "The Hurtless Trees" (published by Jordan Davies in New York)
  • 1992: The Man With Night Sweats[2]
  • 1992: Old Stories (poetry)[14]
  • 1993: Collected Poems[2]
  • 1994: Collected Poems[2]
  • 1998: Frontiers of Gossip[2]
  • 2000: Boss Cupid[2]
  • Thom Gunn, Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview (Poets on Poetry), 1993.


  1. ^ British Poetry: Since 1945. Great Britain: Penguin Classics. 1971. p. 143. ISBN 014042122X.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Web page titled "Thom Gunn" at the website of the Academy of American Poets retrieved 12 July 2009
  3. ^ Norton Anthology of English Literature
  4. ^ Norton Anthology of English Literature
  5. ^ Thom., Gunn, (2007). The man with night sweats (Pbk. ed.). New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 9780374530686. OCLC 138338588.
  6. ^ "Stanford Magazine - Article". Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  7. ^ Web page titled "In Memoriam, Thomson Gunn" retrieved 9 January 2018.
  8. ^ Reed Woodhouse, Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945–1995, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998, ISBN 1558491325, p. 64.
  9. ^ a b Biespiel, David, "A Poet's Life Part Two", San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 2005, retrieved 17 July 2009
  10. ^ a b c Orr, Daniel, "On Poetry" column, "Too Close to Touch", New York Times Book Review, 12 July 2009 (published 9 July online), retrieved 12 July 2009
  11. ^ Guthmann, Edward, "Thom Gunn, poet of comradely love", San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 1995
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ a b Paull, Laura. "Honoring gay leather culture with art installation in SoMa alleyway – J". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  14. ^ a b Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6

Further reading

  • Campbell, J. Thom Gunn in conversation with James Campbell, Between The Lines, London, 2000. ISBN 1-903291-00-3
  • Weiner, Joshua (ed.) (2009). At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-89044-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)

External links

Berkeley Poetry Review

Berkeley Poetry Review (BPR) is an American poetry journal published annually by the undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley since 1974. The journal has featured a wide array of poets and writers, such as Pablo Neruda, Czesław Miłosz, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Thom Gunn, Leslie Scalapino, and Galway Kinnell, among others.

Bert Gunn

For the Scottish painter, see Herbert James Gunn

Herbert Smith "Bert" Gunn (3 April 1903 – 2 March 1962) was a British newspaper editor.

Born in Gravesend, Gunn worked as a reporter for the Kent Messenger, and then the Straits Times in Singapore. He returned to the UK to work at the Manchester Evening News, then the London Evening News and the Evening Standard. He also married, and had two sons: Thom Gunn, later a poet, and Ander Gunn, later a photographer.In 1936, Gunn became the first northern editor of the Daily Express, then in 1943 became managing editor. He wrote the headline "It's That Man Again", referring to Hitler, later to become the title of a popular radio show.Gunn became editor of the Evening Standard in 1944, but owner Lord Beaverbrook disagreed with his plans to adopt a more populist approach, and Gunn left in 1952. Gunn also revealed that Labour Party MP Garry Allighan was leaking stories to the newspaper, following which Allighan resigned.In 1953, Gunn joined the Daily Sketch as its editor, and doubled its circulation in six years. In 1958–1959, he was the President of the Institute of Journalists. He moved to edit the Sunday Dispatch in 1959, but this was merged with the Sunday Express in 1961 and Gunn resigned from Associated Newspapers in 1962.

Charlie Bondhus

Charlie Bondhus (born 1981) is an American poet and author of four books. His second book, All the Heat We Could Carry, was the winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, the 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and a finalist for the Gival Press Poetry Book Award.

Clive Wilmer

Clive Wilmer (born 10 February 1945) is a British poet, who has published eight volumes of poetry. He is also a critic, literary journalist, broadcaster and lecturer.

Wilmer was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire and attended Emanuel School and King's College, Cambridge. He is the brother of writer and photographer Val Wilmer. He has a daughter, a son and two grandsons. He shares his life with the historian of science Patricia Fara.

Wilmer's poetry is usually formal but occasionally experimental. He sees religion as fundamental to what he writes, yet he does not associate himself with a parochial view of spiritual matters. His work is also marked by an enthusiasm for architecture and visual culture.

He is currently resident in Cambridge, where he is Emeritus Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. He is also an Honorary Fellow of Anglia Ruskin University, an Anniversary Fellow of Whitelands College, University of Roehampton, and an Honorary Patron of the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.He has had various teaching jobs in Italy – in Florence, Verona, Padua and Venice. In 2015 he was a Visiting Professor at Ca' Foscari University of Venice.

He is interested in the art of verse translation and has translated himself from several languages, In particular, he has translated in collaboration with the Hungarian poet George Gömöri. Together they have translated selections from Miklós Radnóti, György Petri, János Pilinszky and Gömöri himself, as well as individual pieces by several others. Wilmer’s own poems have been translated into Hungarian, Italian and Spanish.

Wilmer was the prime mover of the Ezra Pound centenary exhibition Pound's Artists: Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts in London, Paris and Italy, held at Kettle's Yard and the Tate Gallery in 1985. From 1986 to 1990 he was one of the four founding editors of the magazine Numbers.He is an enthusiastic advocate for the work of the Victorian critic, artist, philanthropist and social reformer John Ruskin. Since 2004, he has been a Director of the Guild of St George, the charity founded by Ruskin. He became Master of the Guild in 2009. He has also written extensively on William Morris.

Among contemporary writers, Wilmer has written on the work of the poets Thom Gunn and Donald Davie and has edited volumes of their essays. His annotated edition of Gunn's Selected Poems was published by Faber and Faber in 2017.

Fadhil Assultani

Fadhil Assultani is an Iraqi poet, translator and journalist. He has lived in London since 1994, and works as an editor of cultural department at the daily London- based newspaper Asharqalawsat. He has published several books of poetry and translation. Some of his poems were translated into Germany, Spanish, Kurdish, Persian and English.

He has B.A. in English Language, College of Arts, University of Baghdad, and MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck College, University of London.

His latest book in English is Philip Larkin An Outsider Poet: Transcendence of Solitude, Sex and the Ordinary. His translations from English into Arabic include: Short Stories by William Trevor.The Bluest Eye, by Tony Morrison, The Wings and Other Poems, by Miroslav Holub, and Fifty Years of British Poetry (1950-2000), an anthology of British poetry including fifty-six British poets among them: Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice, Laurence Durrell, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, R. S. Thomas, Ted Hughes, Fillip Larkin, Charles Tomlinson, Seamus Heaney, Thom Gunn, Douglas Dunn, Michael Hamburger, Kathleen Raine, Andrew Motion, Brian Patten, Carol Ann Duffy, Catherine Fisher and others .

Fantasy Press (poetry)

The Fantasy Press was an English publisher of poetry between 1951 and 1959.

The company was established by Oscar Mellor in Swinford, Oxfordshire primarily to finance his work as a surrealist artist, but gained a high-profile through discovering a series of poets who became major figures of The Movement.

Poets who had early works published by the Fantasy Press include Elizabeth Jennings, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, and Geoffrey Hill.

James Campbell (author)

James Campbell (born 5 June 1951), is a Scottish writer.

He was born in Glasgow and educated at the University of Edinburgh (1974–78), he is a former editor of the New Edinburgh Review and works for The Times Literary Supplement, where he writes the weekly "NB" column under the pen-name J.C.

BibliographyInvisible Country: A Journey Through Scotland, 1984

Gate Fever: Voices from a Prison, 1986

Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, 1991

Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and Others on the Left Bank, 1994

Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank (US edition of above title), 1995

The Picador Book of Blues and Jazz (editor), 1995

This Is the Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris, 1999

Thom Gunn in Conversation with James Campbell, 2000

Syncopations: Beats, New Yorkers, and Writers in the Dark, 2008

Jim Powell (poet)

Jim Powell is an American poet, translator, and classicist from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry

The Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry is an annual literary award, presented by the Lambda Literary Foundation to a gay-themed book of poetry by a male writer.

At the first two Lambda Literary Awards in 1989 and 1990, a single award for LGBT Poetry, irrespective of gender, was presented. Beginning with the 3rd Lambda Literary Awards in 1991, the poetry award was split into two separate awards for Gay Poetry and Lesbian Poetry, which have been presented continuously since then except at the 20th Lambda Literary Awards in 2008, when a merged LGBTQ poetry award was again presented for that year only.

Love in a Dark Time

Love In a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar is a collection of essays by Irish writer Colm Tóibín published in 2002.

The first essay was a long review, published originally in the London Review of Books, on A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods. The other pieces are devoted to individual artists.

'Writing these pieces' said Tóibín, 'helped me to come to terms with things - with my own interest in secret, erotic energy (Roger Casement and Thomas Mann), my pure admiration for figures who, unlike myself, weren’t afraid (Oscar Wilde, Bacon, Almodóvar), my abiding fascination with sadness (Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin) and, indeed, tragedy (Thom Gunn and Mark Doty).' [1]

The book also contains an essay on Henry James, a figure to whom the author would later devote a novel, The Master.

Oscar Mellor

Oscar Mellor (7 June 1921 – 2005) was an English surrealist artist and publisher of poetry. An associate of the Birmingham Surrealists in the 1940s, he founded the Fantasy Press in the 1950s, publishing works by poets such as Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and Thom Gunn.Although he became best known as a publisher, he saw himself primarily as an artist whose business activities existed to support his painting.

Poetry Northwest

Poetry Northwest was founded as a quarterly, poetry-only journal in 1959 by Errol Pritchard, with Carolyn Kizer, Richard Hugo, Edith Shiffert and Nelson Bentley as co-editors. The first issue was 32 pages and included the work of Richmond Lattimore, May Swenson, Philip Larkin, James Wright, and William Stafford.

During the magazine's four decades, it gained an international reputation for publishing some of the best poetry by established and up-and-coming poets in the United States, Britain, and beyond including Stanley Kunitz, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, May Swenson, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, Czesław Miłosz, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Robert Pinsky, Annie Dillard, Richard Wilbur, Jorie Graham, Michael S. Harper, James Dickey, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry and Anne Sexton.

In 1963, Poetry Northwest became a publication of the University of Washington. In 1964, Kizer became the sole editor of the magazine and would hold that post until 1966 when she resigned to become the Literature Director at the National Endowment for the Arts. David Wagoner assumed the role of editor, a position he would hold for 36 years.

In 2002, after several years of dire financial circumstances, Poetry Northwest — at the time one of the longest-running poetry-only publications in the country — temporarily ceased publication.

In 2005, the University of Washington appointed poet David Biespiel as the magazine's new editor, with the agreement that the editorial offices of the magazine would relocate to the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. The new series resumed publication in March 2006 and immediately re-established its reputation as one of the most important and lively poetry magazines in the United States.

In 2010, David Biespiel stepped down as editor and poet Kevin Craft was appointed the sixth editor in the magazine's history. The editorial offices subsequently moved to Everett Community College in Everett, Washington, north of Seattle. Kevin Craft served as editor until 2016, when Aaron Barrell and Erin Malone were appointed co-editors.

Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco (born February 15, 1968) is an American poet, public speaker, author and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a United States presidential inauguration, having read for Barack Obama's second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet. This poet continues his journey and wrote other books such as 'How to Love a Country; City of a Hundred Fires, which received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press; Directions to The Beach of the Dead, recipient of the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center; and Looking for The Gulf Motel, recipient of the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award. He has also authored the memoirs For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, winner of the Lambda Literary Prize. He later was a professor, having taught at Georgetown University, American University, and Wesleyan University. He serves as the first Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets.

Richard Siken

Richard Siken is an American poet, painter, and filmmaker. He is the author of the collection Crush (Yale University Press, 2005), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 2004. His second book of poems, War of the Foxes, was released from Copper Canyon Press in 2015.

San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley

The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along the Ringold Street alley in San Francisco's SOMA district honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017.Collectively titled Leather Memoir, the artworks created by landscape architect Jeffrey Miller, are:

A black granite stone etched with a narrative by Gayle Rubin, an image of the "Leather David" statue by Mike Caffee, and a reproduction of Chuck Arnett’s mural in a former leather bar

Engraved standing stones that honor community leather institutions including the Folsom Street Fair,

Leather pride flag pavement markings through which the stones emerge, and

Bronze bootprints along the curb honoring 28 individuals who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco:Jim Kane (community leader and biker)

Ron Johnson

Steve McEachern (owner of the Catacombs, a gay and lesbian S/M fisting club)

Cynthia Slater (a founder of the Society of Janus)

Tony Tavarossi (manager of the Why Not)

Chuck Arnett

Jack Haines (Fe-Be's and The Slot owner)

Alexis Muir (a transwoman who owned South of Market bars and baths)

Sam Steward

Terry Thompson (SF Eagle manager)

Philip M. Turner (founder of Daddy's Bar)

Hank Diethelm (The Brig owner)

Kerry Brown, Ken Ferguson, and David Delay (Ambush co-owners)

Alan Selby (founder of the store Mr. S Leather and known as the "Mayor of Folsom Street")

Peter Hartman (owner of 544 Natoma art gallery and theater)

Robert Opel

Anthony F. (Tony) DeBlase (creator of the leather pride flag)

Marcus Hernandez (Bay Area Reporter leather columnist)

John Embry (a founder and publisher of Drummer magazine)

Geoff Mains (author of Urban Aboriginals)

Mark Thompson (author and cofounder of Black Leather Wings)

Thom Gunn

Paul Mariah (poet, printer and activist)

Robert Davolt (author and organizer of San Francisco Pride leather contingent)

Jim Meko (printer and South of Market activist)

Alexis Sorel (co-founder of The 15 and member of Black Leather Wings)

Bert Herman (author and publisher, leader of handball community)

T. Michael "Lurch" Sutton (biker and co-founder of the Bears of SF)

The Movement (literature)

The Movement was a term coined in 1954 by J. D. Scott, literary editor of The Spectator, to describe a group of writers including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, D. J. Enright, John Wain, Elizabeth Jennings, Thom Gunn and Robert Conquest. The Movement was essentially English in character as poets from other parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were not involved.

Thom Gunn Award

The Thom Gunn Award is an annual literary award, presented by Publishing Triangle to honour works of gay male poetry. First presented in 2001 as the Triangle Award for Gay Poetry, the award was renamed in memory of American poet Thom Gunn, the award's first winner, following his death in 2004.

Triadic-line poetry

Triadic-line poetry or stepped line is a long line which "unfolds into three descending and indented parts". Created by William Carlos Williams, it was his "solution to the problem of modern verse" and later was also taken up by poets Charles Tomlinson and Thom Gunn.

William Cookson

William Cookson (8 May 1939–2 January 2003) was a British poet, writer on poetry and literary editor, best known for his influential poetry magazine Agenda.

He was brought up in Surrey and London, and educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford. At 16, he started a correspondence with Ezra Pound who started mentoring him and introducing him to his network of contacts. In October 1958, aged 19, he travelled to Italy to meet Ezra Pound, and as a result of this visit, he decided to become an editor and launched his magazine Agenda, in January 1959. Initially, Agenda continued Pound's economic and political ideas at the time of composing Thrones (1959). However, after a year of experimenting, Cookson reoriented his magazine towards contemporary poetry and stayed faithful to this direction until his death in 2003 ; politically, he became a socialist. In literary terms, Cookson remained devoted to Pound his whole life and his magazine is an important link in the reception of Pound's poetry in the UK. That fact should not obscure the main merit of Agenda, namely that it followed the development of late modernist poetry in Britain and America, correlating it both with tradition and with poetries all over the world, through translations, reviews and essays. Cookson dedicated whole issues of Agenda to key British poets like David Jones, Geoffrey Hill, Thom Gunn, Basil Bunting, building reference points for their poetry.

Cookson also edited a volume of Pound's Selected Prose (1973) and published A Guide to The Cantos of Ezra Pound (1985, 2001).

On Cookson's death a "Celebratory Issue" of Agenda (Vol. 39, No. 4 (2003)) was published in which his successor as editor of the journal, Patricia McCarthy, described him as "a man who sacrificed his life for poetry and was perhaps the best, most single-minded editor of our day". In addition to a final redaction of "Vestiges and Versions", the issue contains biographical sketches by Edmund Gray and Martin Dodsworth.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.