John Thompson (poet)

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For other people named John Thompson, see John Thompson (disambiguation).
John Thompson (1938-1976)

John Thompson (17 Mar 1938 – 26 Apr 1976) was an English-born Canadian poet.

John Thompson was born in Timperley in 1938. Following the death of his father and abandonment by his mother,[1] he was educated at various boarding schools and the Manchester Grammar School. He received his B.A. in honours psychology from the University of Sheffield in 1958. Following two years service in the British Army intelligence corps, he studied comparative literature at Michigan State University and received his Ph.D. He studied under A. J. M. Smith[1] and his thesis entailed the translation of poems by the French poet René Char. In 1966 he moved to Canada and taught English literature at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. His first collection of poetry, At the Edge of the Chopping there are no Secrets (1973), received mixed reviews. This was followed by a divorce and a fire that consumed his home and most of his manuscripts. He wrote the 38 poems in his second - and last - collection, Stilt Jack, while in Toronto on a sabbatical.

The cause of his death at the age of 38, immediately after Stilt Jack was completed, remains the subject of debate. In the fall of 1975, Thompson wrote his will. At Christmas, he broke down and was hospitalized. On his release three months later, instead of abiding by the doctor's orders not to mix drugs and alcohol, he continued to drink steadily. He finished Stilt Jack in April. On April 24, he gave the manuscript to his friend and fellow poet, Douglas Lochhead. After returning home, the tenants in the apartment below heard muffled choking and cries. He was discovered comatose-and pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. James Polk describes the cause of death as "a brutal mix of barbiturates and liquor."[2] The autopsy did not provide conclusive evidence that Thompson killed himself.[3]

Thompson's poems, published and unpublished, including his translations of French and Québécois poets, John Thompson: Collected Poems and Translations, and a biographical essay by the editor, Peter Sanger, were published by Goose Lane Editions (Fredericton) in 1995.

In 1998 in The Danforth Review, Dan Reve wrote, "[The ghazal] is a rarefied, peculiar and therefore powerful form... John Thompson is to be credited with the introduction and dissemination of the ghazal in Canada. His Stilt Jack is one of literature's odd, incommensurable works of genius."[4]


  • At the Edge of the Chopping there are No Secrets (1973)
  • Stilt Jack (1978)
  • John Thompson: Collected Poems and Translations, edited by Peter Sanger (Goose Lane Editions, 1995)
  • I Dream Myself Into Being: Collected Poems, foreword by James Polk (Anansi, 1991, reissued in 2006)


  1. ^ a b Heather Pyrcz. I'm a Stranger Here Myself: A Digital History of Canadian Poetry: "Jay MacPherson, Anne Szumigalski, John Thompson, Michael Ondaatje",, 2003
  2. ^ James Polk, foreword to I Dream Myself Into Being: Collected Poems, by John Thompson (1991).
  3. ^ Peter Sanger, introduction to John Thompson: Collected Poems and Translations, (1995)
  4. ^ Dan Reve, Review - Cutting the Devil's Throat by Andrew Steeves, Danforth Review, Vol. II No. I, September 2000

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