Calvin Thomas, Jr.
Calvin Thomas Jr. was a promising young poet at Yale Univeristy when, during the summer of his sophomore year, he attended John Crowe Ransom’s summer school at Kenyon College. There he met influential New Critics like Allen Tate, Mark Shorer, and Yvor Winters, who would later become a mentor. He graduated from Yale in 1951, joined the Air Force, and was sent to Germany. His story “The Comeback,” which sprang from his experience interviewing German war veterans, was included in Stanford Best Stories. Thomas also wrote poems during this time, he alleged, “with no plan for them.” He continued, “but I mailed them off with short stories to [Wallace] Stegner and, to my surprise, learned I’d won the Stanford Fellowship, together with a Thom Gunn, and now belonged to Winters.”
Though he never published a book, Thomas had poems accepted in Poetry, The Golden Goose, Sequoia, and the journal Botteghe Oscure. Often drawing on his experiences in the Air Force and his time in Europe, Thomas’s work displays the formal facility associated with New Critic poets like Tate and Winters. The strict rhyme schemes of poems such as “Warning from a Visitor in the Control Tower” and “On the Crash of an Airliner at Takeoff” belie stark and gruesome images such as the counting up of “bodies broken and all bodies seared” or a control tower guard blinded by fog: “Here in the tower my skeleton will do / to signal you. I am for all your kind / Tonight’s full complement and only crew.”
Thomas left Stanford to pursue a foreign service career and lived in Berlin, Zagreb, Hamburg, Colombo, Bombay, Rabat, New Delhi, Paris, and London. He retired in 1988 and died in 2016, in Arlington, Virginia.