Turnbull was born in Edinburgh and grew up in the North of England and in Canada. He studied Natural Science at Cambridge University and graduated in Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951.
In 1957, Turnbull started Migrant Press, one of the first British-run presses to focus on poets in the modernist tradition. His work was featured in the groundbreaking Revival anthology Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain (1969). His own books include A Gathering of Poems 1950-1980 (1983) and Rattle of Scree: Poems (1997). He was also published in the anthologies The New British Poetry (1988), Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970 (1999) and Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (2001).
He returned to Edinburgh in the early 1990s. In this city, he worked on what he termed kinetic poems; texts for installation in which the movement of the reader and/or of the text became part of the reading experience. He died on a visit to Herefordshire of a sudden brain haemorrhage.
In 2006, Turnbull's collected poems, There Are Words, were published by Shearsman Books.
- Trio: First Poems by Gael Turnbull, Phyllis Webb, and Eli Mandel. Toronto: Contact Press, 1954.
- A Gathering of Poems 1950-1980 - 1983
- Rattle of Scree: Poems - 1997
- There Are Words: Collected Poems - 2006 ISBN 0907562892
- Gael Turnbull at the BEPC
- Ron Silliman on the work of Gael Turnbull Ron Silliman discusses the work of Turnbull, particularly There Are Words: Collected Poems, on his popular weblog
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