John Thompson on the Tantramar Marshes, 1971. Photo by J.B. Simons. Licensed under Cretive Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

John Thompson
Born March 17, 1938
Timperley, Greater Manchester, UK
Died April 26, 1976
Occupation professor of English
Nationality Canada Canadian
Ethnicity English
Education Ph.D.
Alma mater University of Sheffield, Michigan State University

John Thompson (March 17, 1938 - April 26, 1976) was an English-born Canadian poet and academic. He has been credited with introducing and popularizing the ghazal form in Canada.


Thompson was born in Timperley, Greater Manchester, England. 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 Rene Char.

In 1966 Thompson moved to Canada and taught English literature at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, where he lived in a farmhouse. 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. Thompson 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]


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]

Thompson's poems, published and unpublished, including his translations of French and Quebecois poets, were collected and published as John Thompson: Collected poems and translations, with a biographical essay by editor Peter Sanger, by Goose Lane Editions of Fredericton in 1995.



  • At the Edge of the Chopping there are No Secrets. Toronto: Anansi, 1973.
  • Stilt Jack. Toronto: Anansi, 1978.
  • I Dream Myself Into Being: Collected poems (with foreword by James Polk). Anansi, 1991; reissued in 2006.
  • Collected poems and translations (edited by Peter Sanger). Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 1995.


  • The Founding of English Metre. Columbia University Press, 1961.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 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 (edited by Peter Sanger). Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 1995. Print.
  4. Dan Reve, Review - Cutting the Devil's Throat by Andrew Steeves, Danforth Review, Vol. II No. I, September 2000
  5. Search results = au:John Thompson, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center. Web, June 4, 2013.

External linksEdit

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