Although he is now renowned as a novelist, biographer and translator as well as a poet, D. M. Thomas wrote and published little else but poetry until he was forty, and has said that poetry has always been his ‘first love’. He has produced an impressive fifteen poetry collections, beginning with Two Voices in 1968, with his most recent being Mrs English and Other Women (2014). In addition he has published thirteen novels, of which the third, the highly acclaimed, Booker-shortlisted The White Hotel (1981), has been translated into over 30 languages. Thomas’s own translations of Russian poets including Pushkin and Akhmatova are themselves highly regarded, and his biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing in 1999. He has also written a stage play, Hell Fire Corner (2004).

Thomas’s poetry is direct and often conversational in tone, touching on subjects close to home such as marriage, sex and death. One of the poems’ great strengths is in their conjuring of the intimate communications between people, whether they be lovers or friends, present or departed. In ‘Friday Evening’, the coming together of a couple as they make a familiar journey towards each other becomes a meditation on the melancholy contradictions of romantic relationships, the beat of the narrator’s journey gaining pace as he imagines his lover’s concurrent one, causing him to conclude at one point: ‘To give up is as desperate as to go on.’ Meanwhile ‘Barbecue’ wryly and somewhat mischievously reflects on the problems of multiple marriages with a surprising and satisfying frankness, the speaker’s mock-innocence – ‘Why is there always so much confusion?’ – disarming the reader even as the poet appears to wriggle out of the firing line.

There is a lightness of touch here which allows Thomas to handle sensitive subject matter without drama or sensation. His soft, melodic reading style, evident in the poems recorded here, complements this approach, drawing out the subtleties of the work. In ‘Fox’ the speaker responds to a close friend’s suicide note, cutting through the complexity of painful emotions left in the wake of a suicide with impressive control and simplicity: ‘Thank you for your letter in which you say I shall / never forgive you but may grow to understand. / You’re wrong, though: I forgive you already, / but I shall never understand.’ The poem is all the more powerful for its restraint; it is the aliveness of the relationship between speaker and absent addressee, and the speaker’s cool anger and resignation that hit home hardest: ‘I guess . . . it’s not the calm romantic / sleep you imagined – I hope you’re disappointed.’

Thomas was born in Cornwall, where he now lives with his fourth wife. He has three grown-up children.

D. M. Thomas’s recording was made at ID Audio, London in October 2013. The producer was John Green.

Poems by D. M. Thomas

Books by D. M. Thomas



Orwell Prize for political writing for biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Prize website