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Thom Gunn's unique style of poetry


My last meeting with Thom Gunn and his death
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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At that time, when I went to San Francisco, I thought I needed a... a new name, so I dropped my first name, Oliver, and I became Wolf. And Thom and others at that time always called me Wolf.


When I came to New York in '65, I continued to see Thom fairly frequently because I would go to the West Coast, and he would come to New York, and I somehow have the feeling of an almost continuous dialogue with him which touched all sorts of things, and a dialogue 40 years in length.


The last time I saw him, I... I had no impression of any failing of energy or optimism or intellect. We... we had a dinner, we had lunch together and then a bottle of wine and talked. A lot of the talk was rather nostalgic. We had both been born in London near Hampstead Heath, and Hampstead Heath had been our playground and our favourite places... one of our favourite places, and there were also some people we knew in common. But we also talked about future work. Thom’s previous book, Boss Cupid, I think had been published in 2000. My previous books, Uncle Tungsten and Oaxaca Journal, had been published in 2001 and ‘02. And I was astounded as well as greatly shocked and saddened when I heard of his death three or four months after this... He... and further shocked and saddened to hear that he died of a drug overdose. At least he had a heart attack, and at autopsy high levels both of... of morphine and cocaine were found in his blood, or... or so I... I am told. I... he had much good work and much good living still in him, or this was my belief. Although Wendy Lesser, who knew him very well, Wendy publishes the Threepenny – oops, I’m forgetting the name – magazine.


[Q] Review.




[Q] Review. The Threepenny…


Oh, right. Wendy Lesser founded and publishes the Threepenny Review, which is sort of the West Coast equivalent of The New York Review of Books. And Thom was a founder member and a frequent contributor. Wendy told me that she thought Thom had been depressed and hopeless, did not look forward to anything, and increased drug doses towards a fatal level with... with his eyes open and knowing what he was doing. I... I hope she is wrong. I don’t like that picture, and it was certainly not my own picture.

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: San Francisco, New York, Hampstead Heath, Boss Cupid, Uncle Tungsten, Oaxaca Journal, Threepenny Review, Thom Gunn, Wendy Lesser

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012