There are words is the long-awaited summary of Scottish poet Gael Turnbull's poetic career. A major figure in post-war British verse, Gael Turnbull (1928-2004) was at the centre of a nexus of Anglo-American poetic activity in the 1950s and 1960s, occasioned by the fact that he was one of the few poets who actually moved to and fro across the Atlantic in those years, and by his stewardship of the pioneering small press, Migrant. After his return to the UK in the early 1960s, he worked as a general practitioner and anaesthetist until his retirement. His own work covered an ermous range, from modernist experiment to performance work, from visual material meant for public display to short amusing ballads. A true original, the scale of his achievement has been obscured until w by the fact that his major books have long been out of print and that a good deal of his work appeared in limited editions from small presses.
Gael Turnbull (1928-2004) was born in Edinburgh, but grew up in Jarrow and in Blackpool, before emigrating to Winnipeg at the outbreak of the war with his father and mother, respectively a Scottish Baptist Minister and an American of Swedish descent. He returned to England in 1944 to complete his schooling and then to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. After rejoining his family in North America, he studied for an MD at the University of Pennsylvania and then, in 1952, became a GP and anaesthetist at Iroquois Falls Hospital in northern Ontario as well as providing medical assistance at logging camps in the area. There followed a short stay in London (1955-56), and a position as anaethetist at Ronkswood Hospital in Worcester until 1958, followed by a similar position at the Ventura County hospital in California. He returned to Worcester in 1964, to avoid the possibility of being sent to Vietnam as a medical orderly. He was later to work in general practice until his retirement in 1989, whereupon he returned to live in Edinburgh. An independent figure, he was central to the early transatlantic poetic contacts which were to have a transforming effect on many poets in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. Frequently collected and anthologised, his own poetry was deeply personal and owed little to any particular school, although it would be fair to say that his admiration for the work of William Carlos Williams, another poet-doctor, never left him and was an early driving force behind the discovery, and the maturing, of his own poetic voice.