Thomas McGrath (poet)

Thomas McGrath (1916-1990). Photo by Thomas McGrath, Jr. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Matthew McGrath, (November 20, 1916 - September 20, 1990)) was an American poet.[1][2]


McGrath was born near Sheldon, North Dakota, and grew up on a farm in Ransom County, North Dakota. He earned a B.A. from the University of North Dakotaat Grand Forks.

He served in the Aleutian Islands with the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, at Oxford. McGrath also pursued postgraduate studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

He taught at Colby College in Maine and at Los Angeles State College, from which he was dismissed in connection with his appearance, as an unfriendly witness, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953. Later he taught at North Dakota State University, and Minnesota State University, Moorhead. He was married three times and had one son. He died in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


McGrath wrote mainly about his own life and social concerns. His est-known work is probably Letter to an Imaginary Friend published in sections between 1957 and 1985 and as a single poem in 1997 by Copper Canyon Press.[3]

"Letter to an Imaginary Friend licks its fingers and burps at the table. Polite it is not--and the better for it when McGrath turns from his populist vitriol to what may be his most abiding talent: that of bestowing praise--grace, even--on the common, the unruly, the inconsolable, those McGrath chose to side and sing with and for whom 'the world is too much but not enough with us.'"[4]



  • First Manifesto. Baton Rouge, LA: Swallow Press, 1940.
  • "The Dialectics of Love" in Three Young Poets: Thomas McGrath, William Peterson, James Franklin Lewis (edited by Alan Swallow). Prairie City, IL: Press of James A. Decker, 1942.
  • To Walk a Crooked Mile. New York: Swallow Press, 1947.
  • Longshot O'Leary's Garland of Practical Poesie. New York: International Publishers, 1949.
  • Witness to the Times! privately printed, 1954.
  • Figures from a Double World. Denver, CO: Swallow Press, 1955.
  • Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Part I, Swallow Press, 1962
    • published with Part II. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1970
    • Parts III and IV. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1985
    • Part I - Part IV (with selected new material). Port, Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1997.
  • New and Selected Poems. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1964.
  • The Movie at the End of the World: Collected poems. Swallow Press, 1972.
  • Poems for Little People. Gloucester, circa 1973.
  • Voyages to the Inland Sea #3. Center for Contemporary Poetry, 1973.
  • Voices from beyond the Wall (contains all the poems from The Movie at the End of the World). Moorhead, MN: Territorial Press, 1974.
  • A Sound of One Hand: Poems. St. Peter, MN: Minnesota Writers Publishing House, 1975.
  • Open Songs: Sixty short poems. Mount Carroll, IL: Uzzano, 1977.
  • Letters to Tomasito (graphics by Randall W. Scholes). St. Paul, MN: Holy Cow! Press, 1977.
  • Trinc: Praises II; a poem. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1979.
  • Waiting for the Angel. Menomanie, WI: Uzzano, 1979.
  • Passages toward the Dark. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1982.
  • Echoes inside the Labyrinth. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1983.
  • Longshot O'Leary Counsels Direct Action: Poems. West End Press, 1983.
  • Selected Poems, 1938-1988. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1988.
  • Death Song (edited by Sam Hamill). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1991.
  • Nine Poems. Mandrill Press.


  • The Gates of Ivory, the Gates of Horn (with foreword by Charles Humboldt). New York: Mainstream Publishers, 1957
    • revised edition (with introduction by Frederick C. Stern). Chicago: Another Chicago Press, 1987.
  • This Coffin Has No Handles. North Dakota Quarterly, 1985
    • hardcover edition, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1988.


  • Clouds (illustrated by Chris Jenkyns). Los Angeles, CA: Melmont Publishers, 1959.
  • The Beautiful Things (illustrations by C. Jenkyns). New York: Vanguard Press, 1960.


  • Poetry for Pleasure (edited by Ian M. Parsons). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960.
  • New Poets of England and America (edited by Donald Hall). Meridian, 1962.
  • Poets of Today: A New American Anthology (edited by Walter Lowenfel). New York: International Publishers, 1964.
  • Heartland: Poets of the Midwest (edited by Lucien Stryk). DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1967.
  • Where Is Vietnam? (edited by W. Lowenfels). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.
  • Getting into Poetry (edited by Morris Sweetkind). Rostan Holbrook Press, 1972.
  • Traveling America. New York: [[Macmillan Publishers (United States)|Macmillan, 1977.
  • The Norton Introduction to Literature (2nd edition). New York: Norton, 1977.
  • News of the Universe (edited by Robert Bly). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club, 1980.
  • From A to Z: 200 Contemporary Poets. Swallow Press, 1981.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[5]

See alsoEdit


  • The Revolutionary Poet in the United States: The poetry of Thomas McGrath (edited by Frederick C. Stern). Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press 1988. ISBN 0-8262-0682-4
  • Reginald Gibbons & Terrence Des Pres (1987). Thomas McGrath: Life and the poem. Northwestern University. 


External linksEdit

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