Jon Silkin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Jon Silkin (2 December 1930 – 25 November 1997) was a British poet.

Early life[edit]

Jon Silkin was born in London, in a Litvak Jewish family, his parents were Joseph Silkin and Doris Rubenstein.[1] His grandparents were all from the Lithuanian- part of the Russian Empire.[1] His uncle was Lewis Silkin, 1st Baron Silkin.[1] He was named Jon after Jon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga,[2] and attended Wycliffe College and Dulwich College[3] During the Second World War he was one of the children evacuated from London (in his case, to Wales); he remembered that he "roamed the countryside incessantly" while in Wales, collecting "fool's gold" and exploring old Roman mines.[4] For a period of about six years in the 1950s, after National Service, he supported himself by manual labour and other menial jobs. By 1956 he rented the top-floor flat at 10, Compayne Gardens, Hampstead, (51°32′47″N 0°10′56″W / 51.5463°N 0.1822°W / 51.5463; -0.1822), the house of Bernice Rubens, who later won the Booker Prize, and her husband Rudolph Nassauer, also a published novelist, later. Silkin, in turn, sublet rooms to, among others, David Mercer, later a prolific TV and West End dramatist, and Malcolm Ross-Macdonald, then a diploma student at the Slade and later a novelist; his first novel, The Big Waves (Cape, 1962) is a roman à clef of life in that flat, in which Silkin features as Somes Arenstein. All three men lived by teaching English as a foreign language at the St Giles School of English in Oxford Street.


He wrote a number of works on the war poetry of World War I. He was known also as editor of the literary magazine Stand, which he founded in 1952, and which he continued to edit (with a hiatus from 1957 to 1960) until his death.

His first poetry collection, The Peaceable Kingdom was published in 1954. It contains his moving poem "Death of a Son":[5]

He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled, like stones, and he died.

The collection was followed by several more. The Lens Breakers was published by Sinclair Stevenson in 1992. He edited several anthologies and books of criticism, most notably on the poets of the First World War. He lectured and taught widely, both in Britain and abroad (in among other places the United States, Israel, and Japan).

Silkin founded Stand in 1952 in London.[6] He began an association with the University of Leeds in 1958, when he was awarded, as a mature student, a two-year Gregory Fellowship, and where he read for a degree in English. Stand moved with him to Leeds, and the archives of Stand are now at the university.[7] In 1965, Northeast Arts offered funding, and he moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he lived until his death.

He was working with Cargo Press on his collection Testament Without Breath at the time of his death in November 1997.


  • The Portrait and Other Poems (1950)
  • The Peaceable Kingdom (1954)
  • The Two Freedoms (1958)
  • New Poems 1960 (1960) editor with Anthony Cronin and Terence Tiller
  • Living Voices (1960)
  • The Re-Ordering of the Stones (1961)
  • Flash Point An Anthology of Modern Poetry (1964), only the introduction is by Silkin; the selection, survey, and notes are by Robert Shaw (poet)
  • Flower Poems (1964) second edition 1978
  • Penguin Modern Poets 7 (1965) with Richard Murphy and Nathaniel Tarn
  • Nature with Man (1965)
  • Poems New And Selected (1966)
  • New and Selected Poems (1966)
  • Against Parting by Natan Zach (c. 1967) translator from Hebrew
  • Three Poems (1969)
  • Poems (1969) editor with Vernon Scannell
  • Pergamon Poets VIII (1970) editor with Vernon Scannell
  • Amana Grass (1971)
  • Killhope Wheel (1971)
  • Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War (1972)
  • Air That Pricks the Earth (1973)
  • Poetry of the Committed Individual: A "Stand" Anthology of Poetry (1973) editor
  • The Principle of Water (1974)
  • A 'Jarapiri' Poem (1975)
  • The Peaceable Kingdom (1975)
  • Two Images of Continuing Trouble (19760
  • The Little Time-Keeper (1976)
  • Jerusalem (1977)
  • Into Praising (1978)
  • Out of Battle, the Poetry of the Great War (1978)
  • The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (1979) editor
  • New Poetry 5: An Arts Council Anthology (1979) editor with Peter Redgrove
  • The Lapidary Poems (1979)
  • Selected Poems (1980)
  • The Psalms and their Spoils (1980)
  • Autobiographical Stanzas: 'Someone's Narrative' (1983)
  • Footsteps on a Downcast Path (1984)
  • Gurney: A Play (1985)
  • The Ship's Pasture (1986)
  • Selected Poems (1980) new edition
  • The Penguin Book of First World War Prose (1989) editor with Jon Glover
  • The Lens-Breakers (1992)
  • Selected Poems (1993)
  • Wilfred Owen: The War Poems (1994) editor
  • Watersmeet (1994)
  • The Life of Metrical & Free Verse in Twentieth-Century Poetry (1997)
  • Testament Without Breath (1998)
  • Making a Republic (2002)
  • Complete Poems (2015)

Poetry of the Committed Individual (1973)[edit]

A Stand anthology, edited by Silkin. The poets included were:

Dannie AbseDavid AvidanJohn BarrellWendell BerryJohn BerrymanAlexander BlokJohannes BobrowskiBertolt BrechtT. J. BrindleyJoseph BrodskyAlan BrownjohnLeon Felipe CaminoAntonio CisnerosPeter DaleGunnar EkelöfHans Magnus EnzensbergerRoy FisherPaavo HaavikkoJohn HainesMichael HamburgerTony HarrisonJohn HaynesJohn Heath-StubbsZbigniew HerbertNazim HikmetGeoffrey HillAnselm HolloMiroslav HolubPeter HuchelPhilip LevineEmanuel LitvinoffGeorge MacBethSorley MacleanChristopher MiddletonEwart MilneNorman NicholsonTom PickardMaila PylkonnenMiklós RadnótiTom RaworthTadeusz RóżewiczPenti Saariskoski – Jon Silkin – Iain Crichton SmithKen SmithVladimir SoloukhinWilliam StaffordMarina TsvetayevaGiuseppe UngarettiCésar VallejoAndrei VoznesenskyJeffrey WainwrightTed WalkerNathan WhitingJames WrightYevgeny YevtushenkoNatan Zach


  1. ^ a b c "Who Was Who In Dulwich - Jon Silkin (1930-1997) poet". Dulwich Society. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  2. ^ H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Howard Harrison, (2004), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: In Association with the British Academy, (Oxford University Press)
  3. ^ British Museum, Jenny Lewis, Arts Council of Great Britain, (1967), Poetry in the Making: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Poetry Manuscripts in the British Museum, page 56, (Turret Books for the Arts Council of Great Britain and the British Museum)
  4. ^ Jon Silkin, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 5. Gale., p. 250
  5. ^ Pybus, Rodney (1 December 1997). "Obituary: Jon Silkin". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013.
  6. ^ "Stand Magazine -- A History".
  7. ^ "Stand Magazine Archive". Special Collections. Leeds University Library. Retrieved 16 March 2017.

External links[edit]