Meary James Tambimuttu


A Sri Lankan Tamil from an affluent English-speaking Roman Catholic family, M. J. Tambimuttu arrived in Britain at the age of 22. Having already published three volumes of poetry in Ceylon, he soon immersed himself in the literary world of London’s Soho and Fitzrovia. Within little more than a year of his arrival he had founded the magazine Poetry London (1939–51) with the writer and musician Anthony Dickins. While Dickins' involvement quickly diminished, Tambimuttu edited the first fourteen volumes of the magazine and a number of books, as well as writing his own poetry. In July 1943, with the backing of publishers Nicholson and Watson (on the recommendation of T. S. Eliot who was an admirer of his), he established Editions Poetry London, which published contemporary verse and prose, as well as art books, in hard cover. Tambimuttu was also a regular participant in the BBC radio series Talking to India during the Second World War. A man of charisma as well as a talented editor, he had an array of friends and acquaintances with whom he enjoyed the pubs and cafes of Fitzrovia.

Tambimuttu returned to Sri Lanka in 1949 then moved to New York in 1952 where he launched the magazine Poetry London–New York (1956–60) as well as continuing to publish short fiction and poetry of his own, and lecturing at the Poetry Center and New York University. In 1968 he returned to London where he founded a final magazine, Poetry London/Apple Magazine, which had just two issues, and a publishing company, the Lyrebird Press. He died of heart failure in London in 1983.

Published works: 

Songs of Youth (1932)

Tone Patterns (Colombo: Slave Island Printing Works, 1936)

Out of this War (London: The Fortune Press, 1941)

(ed.) Poetry in Wartime (London: Faber, 1942)

Natarajah: A Poem for Mr T. S. Eliot (London: Editions Poetry London, 1948)

(ed.) India Love Poems (New York: Peter Pauper Press, 1954)

(ed.) Poems from Bangla Desh: The Voice of a New Nation (London: The Lyrebird Press, 1972)

See also editions of Poetry London and Williams (below) for work by Tambimuttu.


Tambimuttu, M. J., ‘Fitzrovia’, Harpers & Queen (February 1975), pp. 223, 225, 229–30, 232

Date of birth: 
15 Aug 1915

Tambimuttu recounts his arrival in London in 1938, and immersion in the bohemian literary world of ‘Fitzrovia’ and Soho.


Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, W. H. Auden, George Barker, Z. A. Bokhari, Hsiao Ch'ienVenu Chitale, Alex Comfort, Ananda Coomaraswamy (his uncle), Walter de la Mare, G. V. Desani, Indira Devi, Anthony Dickins, Keith Douglas, Cedric Dover, Lawrence Durrell, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Gavin Ewart, E. M. Forster, G. S. Fraser, Lucian Freud, Diana Gardner, David Gascoyne, Michael Hamburger, Barbara Hepworth, Augustus John, Fredoon Kabraji, Alun Lewis, Wyndham Lewis, Louis MacNeice, Richard March, Una Marson, Narayana Menon, Henry Miller, Henry Moore, Anais Nin, George Orwell, Mervyn Peake, Paul Potts, Kathleen Raine, Balachandra Rajan, Herbert Read, Keidrych Rhys, Francis Scarfe, Elizabeth Smart, Edith Sitwell, Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, Marie Stopes, Alagu Subramaniam, Graham Sutherland, Dylan Thomas.

Contributions to periodicals: 

On the third day after my arrival in London in January 1938…I had already discovered Fitzrovia, and settled down at 45 Howland Street, maybe in the same house where Verlaine and Rimbaud had once conducted their stormy love affair…


The first friendships in a new environment have a special quality and meaning and it was at Peter’s party that I first ran across Anthony Dickins, Gavin Ewart, Stephen Spender and Laurence Clark, whose poems I have consistently printed in Poetry London although he was too J. C. Squire-ish and Georgian for most editors...


By the end of February 1939, when the first number of Poetry London had been in the bookstalls for a month, with the special souvenir cover drawn by Hector Whistler, nephew of James McNeill Whistler, who came to our chiefly Sibelius musicals at 3 or 4 a.m. in the morning with a steaming pot of hot coffee in his hand…our humble dwelling in Whitfield Street had been visited by many celebrities of today. We had a pre-publication visit from Larry Durrell and his brother Gerald…


And thus it was that I became a true Fitzrovian like my friends Augustus John, Roy Campbell, Gavin Maxwell, Elizabeth Smart and Kathleen Raine, all of whom used to visit Fitzrovia with me. But I had it in my soul a very long time ago.

Secondary works: 

Beckett, Chris, ‘Tambimuttu and the Poetry London Papers at the British Library: Reputation and Evidence’, Electronic British Library Journal (2009): http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2009articles/article9.html

Maclaren-Ross, J., Memoirs of the Forties (London: Alan Ross Ltd, 1965)

Poologasingham, P., Poet Tambimuttu: A Profile (Colombo: P. Tambimuttu, 1993)

Ranasinha, Ruvani, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Williams, Jane (ed.), Tambimuttu: Bridge Between Two Worlds (London: Peter Owen, 1989)


Tambimuttu’s descriptions of meetings and friendships with a range of well known literary figures, such as Gavin Ewart, Stephen Spender, Anais Nin and William Empson, highlight the extent of his immersion in London’s literary life and suggest an acceptance of him on the part of his British friends and associates – and perhaps also a willingness to adapt to a different culture on the part of Tambimuttu. Passing, indirect allusions to his racial difference or ‘foreignness’ are either humorous or, when he retrospectively describes himself as ‘the pioneer’ of the ‘eternal migration and intermingling of cultures’ (perhaps with some exaggeration), almost boastful; and, rather than a sense of cultural dislocation on migration, there is reference to the continuity of his life in ‘bohemian’ London with his early years in Ceylon.

Archive source: 

Meary James Tambimuttu Mss, Add. MS 88907, British Library, St Pancras

Keith Douglas Mss, Add. Mss 53773-53776, 56355-56360, 60585-60586, 61938-61939, British Library, St Pancras

Richard March Mss, Add.  MS 88908, British Library, St Pancras

Reginald Moore Mss, British Library, St Pancras

Northwestern University, Chicago

Poetry London-New York records, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York

Contributors' Talks File 1 (1941-62), BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham Park, Reading 

City of birth: 
Atchuvely, Jaffna Peninsula
Country of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Sri Lanka
Other names: 

Thurairajah Tambimuttu



45 Howland Street
London, W1T 4BL
United Kingdom
51° 31' 17.4756" N, 0° 8' 15.0792" W
Date of death: 
22 Jun 1983
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1938
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1938–49, 1968–83

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