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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century > Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu >
One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century
Meary James Thurairajah
From the Introduction to the Tambimuttu Archive
at Northwestern University Evanston, IL, USA... (in pdf)
"Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu (1915-1983), known to his readers as Tambimuttu, to his friends and associates as Tambi, was born in [my note: achchuvEli] Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on August 15, 1915 into a family of distinguished, aristocratic scholars.
He was raised a Roman Catholic, educated chiefly in English and by the age of 21 had already begun his life's work in poetry and publishing by printing three volumes of his own poems off a small press typeset by himself. Tambimuttu moved to England in 1938; within a year he founded with his friend Anthony Dickins the journal Poetry, a title quickly modified to Poetry London. It was as editor of Poetry London and of its monographic imprint Editions Poetry London during the decade of the 1940's that Tambimuttu made his greatest mark on the literary scene.
His eye for talent is evidenced by just a sampling of the names of the writers and artists he published: Dylan Thomas, Lawrence Durrell, Kathleen Raine, Stephen Spender, Edith Sitwell, David Gascoyne, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Lucian Freud; many of whom, like Tambimuttu, lived the Bohemian life of wartime and post-war Soho. The quality and importance of Poetry London was vouchsafed by none other than T.S. Eliot, an admirer of Tambimuttu's who wrote "It is only in Poetry London that I can consistently expect to find new poets who matter.". In 1949, following a disagreement with the backing partners of Poetry London, Tambimuttu was terminated as its editor, a move much protested by many friends and contributors.
He settled shortly after this in the United States, where he was to reside, mostly in New York, until his return to London sometime around 1970. His American years were ones of varying fortune. He lectured, published autobiographical short stories, and in 1956 started a new poetry journal, this one titled Poetry London/New York.
Money troubles dogged Tambimuttu all his career, and Poetry London/New York fell victim to them after a run of four issues. The 1960's brought Tambimuttu into contact with much of what was new on the American scene; he stayed awhile, for example, at Timothy Leary's Millbrook compound, but London was a magnet for him and it seems he was glad to return. This second era in England, which would be his home for the remainder of his life, saw Tambimuttu involved in a host of new projects.
In 1972 he and his partner Katherine Falley Bennett launched the Lyrebird Press. In 1979 Tambimuttu revived once more his poetry journal, this time called Poetry London/Apple Magazine, the "Apple" a leftover from a plan for a magazine Tambimuttu had made with the Beatles some time previously. Two issues were produced; a third issue left undone at Tambimuttu's death was to have been devoted to the work of Indian poets, many of whom Tambimuttu discovered on an extensive trip to India he took in 1982 with his daughter Shakuntala. This India trip also lead Tambimuttu into establishing the Indian Arts Council, the purpose of which was to foster greater understanding and cross-influencing between the art traditions of India and those of the West. Very shortly after the first inaugural meetings of the London chapter of the Indian Arts Council, Tambimuttu suffered a fall and was hospitalized; a few days later, on June 22, 1983, he died of a heart attack."
Tambimuttu Archive Northwestern University,
"The Tambimuttu Archive at Northwestern University Library is particularly strong in covering Tambimuttu's later years. There is much regarding the Lyrebird Press, Poetry London/Apple Magazine, and the Indian Arts Council. There is also extensive documentation of the preparation for the festschrift for Tambimuttu (Bridge Between Two Worlds, London: Peter Owen, 1989) edited by his friend Jane Williams after his death. Types of materials held include correspondence, manuscript submissions, proofs and galleys, a large number of photographs, and Tambimuttu's personal library of books and journals. Among the correspondents represented are Lawrence Durrell, David Gascoyne, Conrad Aiken, Francis Scarfe, Nicholas Moore, Iris Murdoch, Kathleen Raine, Feliks Topolski, and George Barker. It is unfortunate that the Archive contains less material documenting the 1940's, which might be considered Tambimuttu's most fertile period.
Much of this material is believed to have been sold by Tambimuttu during his own lifetime. Even the most superficial glance at the current register to the Archive will reveal lapses in logic, consistency, and clarity. Please consider it a work in progress. One important thing to note regarding the register is that the folders (and folder titles) of Boxes 1-22 were shifted directly from Tambimuttu's own files -- hence much of the current irregularity of titling and confusing duplication of subject arrangement."