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Thom Gunn's comments on my writing style


The Sense of Movement by Thom Gunn
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I think it must have been in 1958 that Jonathan Miller gave me a book of poems, The Sense of Movement by Thom Gunn. He said, 'You’ll like these, and you should meet him some day'. I did like the poems very much, and also a book of earlier poems, Fighting Terms, and... I learned that he was living in San Francisco. And when I got to San Francisco in 1960, I immediately made inquiries for him. They said, 'Too bad, he’s just gone to England'. He... I think he had a fellowship at Cambridge or something for a year. So I think I didn’t meet him till '61. But we got on well and I didn’t disguise my admiration of his poetry, and I shyly solicited his opinion on some of my writings. And, as I... as I’ve mentioned, when I went round the country on my motorcycle, I sent my motorcycle diaries, volume by volume to him. I realise I’ve made a mistake with... with the dates. Thom was away in England but he must have been back because I was on the road with my motorcycle from, I think, probably from December of 1960, or perhaps it was early ‘61, I don’t know.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: The Sense of Movement, Fighting Terms, San Francisco, Jonathan Miller, Thom Gunn

Duration: 2 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012