New Brunswick Author Portal

John  Thompson
Categories: Male AuthorsAnglophone AuthorsPoetsSoutheast

photo of author
Source: J. B. Simon


John Thompson was born in Timperley, Cheshire, England on March 17, 1938. At the age of two his father died and his mother sent him to live with relatives in Manchester, where he grew up as a full boarder in several schools. He attended the University of Sheffield and took a B.A. in honours psychology in 1958. He served in the British Army intelligence corps for two years, and then moved to the United States, where he studied comparative literature at Michigan State University and received a Ph.D.

He moved to New Brunswick in 1966 to teach English and American literature and creative writing in the English department of Mount Allison University. He lived with his wife and daughter in a farmhouse at Wood Point, near the Bay of Fundy shore, a locale that inspired his best poetry. His work began appearing in Canadian quarterlies, and his first poetry collection was At the edge of the chopping there are no secrets (1973), his second and last was Stilt Jack (1978). The years between the two works were marked by conflicts with the university, the end of Thompson’s marriage, depression and psychiatric treatment, struggle with alcoholism, and finally the loss of his old farmhouse through fire. Thompson died on April 26, 1976 at age 38 after having been in a coma; the circumstances of his death remain the subject of debate.

Thompson was a sophisticated student of modern poetry, though at the time of his writing the extent of his poetic ambition was unrecognized by critics. However, in recent years his work has been re-evaluated and Thompson is now considered one of the most important Canadian poets of the 1970s. Much like René Char, the French poet on whom Thompson had written his doctoral thesis, Thompson used carefully considered images and precise metaphors to reveal the core truths of nature. Written in the style of the Persian ghazal, John Thompson’s poetry is of a rare and powerful form. According to a 1998 review by Dan Reve in The Danforth Review, 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.”

Featured Publication

At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets


Salt comes in with the wind
off the bay: some days
the air
is thick with it; it stirs
the roots of the tongue, unearths
and splits the husks of taste—
balsam, marsh-hay, bull-flanks,
berries, greens

which fuel this green fire,
this burning off
of the dead hair

of turnips, big as heads,
piled up on the track: meat
for swine and cattle,

plucked junk earth eyes staring
at the man in blue overalls
whose honed fork glitters
in the flame as it
turns the smouldering leaves and stalks,
his mouth full of smoke

so he doesn’t taste
fir, grass, muscle, apple,
the wind thick with salt,
but only watches
the way it stirs and
whips up his fires.

Find this author in the New Brunswick public libraries catalogue.


  • Cogswell, Frederick; Marguerite Maillet and Nancy Miller Chénier. New Brunswick Authors/Écrivains du Nouveau-Brunswick. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1984.