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There Were Words

Tuesday night saw the launch of There are words, the collected poems of Gael Turnbull, who died in 2004. Gael was a doctor, morris dancer, Liberal Democrat activist and endlessly inventive poet, though I knew of only the first and last of those aspects to his life while he was with us.

Gael’s publishing life was lived in small presses and numerous pamphlets, so it was easy for a comparative neophyte like me to miss the significant volume of his work and the role that he had played in bringing American moderist poetry to a UK audience through his own publishing activities. A correspondent of, among others, William Carlos Williams, Basil Bunting and Robert Creeley, he was no peripheral figure. Roy Fisher says on the back-cover blurb for There are words:

I heard that Charles Tomlinson‘s first response to the news of Gael Turnbull’s
sudden death was, “I owe everything to Gael!” Those words could have been mine.

Not that Gael, modest almost to a fault, would accept any such talk. I remember his response when Allan Crosbie mentioned to him that he had recently heard how influential a role he had played: Gael simply smiled and said quietly, “Oh, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear about me.”

Well, whatever you have or haven’t heard about Gael Turnbull, you can read him in There are words. It’s a handsomely bound, substantial volume. Nice paper, too. One could perhaps wish for slightly better type here and there, but that’s quibbling. You hear the man himself reading online at Shore Poets a few years ago and reading from his own and others’ work in 1963, but it’s most wonderful to hear the weight and lightness of his voice through the pages of the book.


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