John Francis Alexander Heath-Stubbs was born at Streatham Manor, London, on 9 July 1918. He was the elder son of Francis Heath-Stubbs, a trained solicitor of independent means, and Edith Louise Sara Heath-Stubbs (née Marr), a concert pianist.
Heath-Stubbs spent much of his childhood in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. He attended the Bembridge School, where he enjoyed studying reference works in the school library. It was here that he first began to write poetry, published in the school magazine.
At the age of eighteen, Heath-Stubbs was diagnosed with glaucoma and lost the sight in his right eye. Following the deterioration in his sight he attended Worcester College for the Blind, where he became editor of the college magazine. In 1939 Heath-Stubbs was awarded the Barker exhibition at Queen's College, Oxford, which was a scholarship intended for someone who was blind or in danger of losing their sight. At Oxford, Heath-Stubbs befriended the poets Sidney Keyes and Drummond Allison, and Philip Rawson, who later became an art professor. He attended lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien, Nevill Coghill, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, and was tutored by Herbert Brett-Smith and John Bryson.
Heath-Stubbs's work was first published in an anthology titled Eight Oxford Poets in 1941. The publisher was Herbert Read, poetry advisor to Routledge, and the volume was edited by Sidney Keyes and Michael Meyer. Keyes's The Iron Laurel and Heath-Stubbs's Wounded Thammuz were published by Routledge in 1942.
Heath-Stubbs graduated from Oxford in 1942, but although he began work on a B.Litt. he decided not to continue in academia. However, he continued to write and publish poetry during this time, including Beauty and the Beast (1943) and an elegy for Sidney Keyes, who was killed in action in 1943, published in The Divided Ways (1945). Heath Stubbs was also introduced to Merton College's literary society, the Bodley Club, by William Bell. Bell's anthology Poetry from Oxford in Wartime (1945) included a number of poems by Heath-Stubbs.
After leaving Oxford, Heath-Stubbs moved to London, where he initially took a teaching job at The Hall preparatory school. He resigned after a short time and worked instead on Hutchinson's popular illustrated encyclopaedia, contributing articles on literature, music, theology, plants, birds, insects and cookery. He continued to write and publish poetry, and his work appeared in Wrey Gardiner's Poetry Quarterly, Hugh Kingsmill's New English Review and John Lehmann's Penguin New Writing. T.S. Eliot invited him to edit The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse, which Heath-Stubbs compiled with David Wright, his friend from Oxford.
Over the next two decades, Heath-Stubbs continued to publish his work with a variety of publishers before beginning a lasting association with Michael Schmidt's Carcanet Press in Manchester. Among the work published by Carcanet was The Watchman's Flute (1978), Naming the Beasts (1982), The Immolation of Aleph (1985) and Collected Poems, 1943-1987 (1988). However, his major work, Artorius, was originally published by Enitharmon Press in 1973.
In 1952, Heath-Stubbs became the second Gregory Fellow in Poetry at the University of Leeds. During this time he came into contact with artists Jacob Kramer and Tom Watt, Bonamy Dobrée (head of the English department at Leeds), composer Peter Dickinson, lecturer Arthur Creedy and Kenneth Severs, head of the BBC in Leeds. Following his three year tenure in Leeds, he continued his teaching career at the University of Alexandria (1955-1958), the University of Michigan (1960-1961), and the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea (1963-1973). He was also a part time lecturer at Merton College, Oxford.
Heath-Stubbs became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1953. He received the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry in 1973 and the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1989. In 1989 he was also awarded the OBE. During his lifetime he produced more than thirty volumes of poetry amongst other works of literature. His last collection, Pigs Might Fly, was published by Carcanet in 2005. He died on 26 December 2006 at the age of 88.