Jon Silkin

Jon Silkin, poet, critic and editor, died in Newcastle upon Tyne on November 25, 1997, aged 66. He was born in London on December 2, 1930. This page contains information about Silkin and a brief bibliography of his works.

For a brief selection of his poems, click here.

Making a Republic, the last volume of poems that Jon Silkin finished, was published by Carcanet / Northern House in the Fall of 2002

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Rodney Pybus's notice from the Spring 1998 issue of STAND

Although we managed to insert at the last moment into the December 1997 issue a slip announcing the sadly premature death of the magazine's founder-editor Jon Silkin, we feel that we would like to express our own feelings at a little greater length. We hope our readers will indulge us, because without him there would have been no magazine. (This is not to say that without him now there will be no Stand.)

Jon started the magazine forty-five years ago and, apart from a short break in the late 1950s, while he gained an English degree from Leeds University, kept it going ever since. This is an extraordinarily long life for a small literary magazine -- not unique, but nearly so. Its longevity is a tribute to the apparently inexhaustible drive and passionate determination on Jon's part that it should survive -- that it should provide a forum for serious poetry and fiction for new as well as established writers, and a place where the unglamorous, the unfashionable, the oppositional, the innovative, the unEnglish, the radical voices might gain a hearing as well as the more conventional, acceptable and consensual voices. Above all, he believed that language, our speech, our writing (both creative and critical) are important beyond the scope of the entertaining and the pleasurable, important though these are; that literature has a moral dimension as well as aesthetic qualities, that what we say helps to place and define us as human beings, and can affect the thoughts and feelings of others. This has not often been an accepted view, and nowadays perhaps it is even less so. But it describes what Stand believes in, and what Jon believed, fervently.

As we know now, his drive and determination and sheer physical stamina were not inexhaustible, though to many of us over the years they seemed almost superhuman. He had known for some time that his energies could not sustain the burden he imposed on them, and was actively engaged with others in searching for a younger editor to begin the process of taking over the reins. Alas, he was never a man who could take things easily or slacken his pace: to the end, even from his hospital bed, concerns and demands to do with the magazine, and drafts of his own poems were still streaming forth. He was unique. Those who worked with him and argued with him and supported him over the years did so because they too believed that what he and his magazine were about was important. We shall keep Stand going while the search continues for a fresh editor, who of course will take the magazine along new paths. Jon Silkin, poet, editor and critic, is, quite simply, irreplaceable.

Rodney Pybus

Selected Bibliography

  • The Portrait and Other Poems. Ilfracombe: Stockwell, 1950. pamphlet.
  • The Peaceable Kingdom. London: Chatto & Windus, 1954.
  • The Two Freedoms. London: Chatto & Windus, 1958. NY: Macmillan, 1958.
  • The Re-Ordering of the Stones. London: Chatto & Windus, 1961. 56pp.
  • Flower Poems. Leeds: Univ. of Leeds, School of English, 1964. pamphlet.
  • Nature with Man. London: Chatto & Windus, 1965. 56pp.
  • Poems, New and Selected. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1966. 79pp.
  • Three Poems. Cambridge, MA: Pym-Randall Press, 1969. pamphlet.
  • Vernon Watkins and Jon Silkin: Poems. London: Longmans, Green, 1969.
  • Vernon Scannell and Jon Silkin: Pergamon Poets VIII. Oxford: Pergamon, 1970.
  • Amana Grass. London: Chatto & Windus, 1971. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1971. 77pp.
  • Killhope Wheel. Ashington: The Mid-Northumberland Arts Group, 1971. North Now Pamphlet #3.
  • Air That Pricks the Earth. Rushden: Sceptre Press, 1973. pamphlet.
  • The Principle of Water. Cheadle: Carcanet Press, 1974. 94pp.
  • The Little Time-Keeper. 1976. NY: Norton, 1977. 75pp.
  • Flower Poems. 2nd. ed. Newcastle: Northern House Poets #27, 1978. pamphlet. 20pp.
  • Into Praising. Poem by Jon Silkin; Photographs by Edwin Easydorchik. Sunderland: Ceolfrith Press, 1978.
  • Selected Poems. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.
  • The Psalms and their Spoils. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980. 74pp.
  • Gurney: A Play Tyne & Wear: Iron Press Drama Editions, 1985. 108pp.
  • The Ship's Pasture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986. 93pp.
  • Selected Poems. New ed. London and NY: Routledge, 1988. 198pp.
  • The Lens-Breakers. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992. 89pp.
  • Selected Poems. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993. 200pp.
  • Watersmeet. Whitley Bay: The Bay Press, 1994. pamphlet. 23pp.
  • Testament Without Breath. Images by Robert McNab. Cornwall: Cargo Press, 1998. pamphlet. 36pp.
  • Making a Republic. Manchester: Carcanet / Northern House, 2002.

  • Literary Criticism:

  • Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War. London: Oxford University Press, 1972. Rpt. by Routledge, 1987.
  • The Life of Metrical and Free Verse in Twentieth-Century Poetry. London and NY: Macmillans & St. Martin's, 1997.
    Edited Works and Translations:

  • Poetry of the Committed Individual: A "Stand" Anthology of Poetry. London: Gollancz, 1973.
  • Natan Zach, Against Parting, trans. Jon Silkin. Northern House Pamphlet Poets, 1967. pamphlet. 16pp.
  • The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. London: Penguin, 1979. 2nd ed., 1981.
  • The Penguin Book of First World War Prose. Ed. with Jon Glover. London: Penguin, 1989.
  • Wilfred Owen: The War Poems. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994.
    Ypres Salient, 1917.
    Biographical and critical sources:

  • Brown, Merle E. "Divisiveness in Recent English Poetry." Boundary 2 8.2 (1980 Winter): 279-95.
  • ---. "On Jon Silkin's 'Amana Grass.'" The Iowa Review 1.1 (1970 Winter): 115-25.
  • ---. "Stress in Silkin's Poetry and the Healing Emptiness of America." Double Lyric: Divisiveness and Communal Creativity in Recent British Poetry. London: Routledge, 1980. 93-125.
  • Crawford, Fred D. "Poetry Of World War I." English Literature In Transition, 1880-1920 31.3 (1988): 358-361.
  • Devine, Kathleen. "Silkin: Sassoon and the Imagery of Loss." Focus on Robert Graves and His Contemporaries 2.2 (1994 Spring): 35-38.
  • Doerr, Joseph Francis. "The Making of the English Working-Class Poet: Historical Perspectives of Class, Art, and Culture in the Shaping of Five Poets from Leeds: Geoffrey Hill, Jon Silkin, Tony Harrison, Ken Smith, and Jeffrey Wainwright." Dissertation, Leeds University, 2003.
  • Glover, Jon. "Jon Silkin." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Lawson, Peter. "Otherness and Affiliation in Anglo-Jewish Poetry." Anglophone Jewish Literature. Ed. Stahler, Axel (ed.) and Wilson, Jonathan (foreword). London: Routledge, 2007. 123-132.
  • Meiners, R. K. "Mourning for Our Selves and for Poetry: The Lyric after Auschwitz." The Centennial Review, 35:3 (1991 Fall): 545-90.
  • Sail, Lawrence. "Conflict and Calm: A Reading of Two of the Flower Poems." Poetry Review, 69 (1980): 10-15.
  • Silkin, Jon. "The First Twenty-Four Years," Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 5, 243-265.
  • "Jon Silkin: A Bibliography." Poetry Review 69 (1980): 30, 75-76.
  • Underhill, Hugh. "Kinds of Seriousness in Poems by Ben Jonson and Jon Silkin." Ariel 10.4 (1979):

    Jon Silkin's statement about STAND MAGAZINE

    How it all Began

    I began Stand in London. The magazine's inception was greatly assisted by the American firm for which I was then working as a lavatory cleaner. One day, the foreman approached the five or six janitors and told us that he wanted us to work overtime, but at the flat rate. Then, as now, work was scarce, but I was so incensed by the foreman's attitude that I tried to organize a tiny union of janitors to protest against our treatment. This was unsuccessful and in the event I took the can. My employers were so anxious to get rid of me that they gave me a day and a half's holiday pay. Before I left, I went to the stationary department and, with the money, bought at a discount the paper for the magazine I intended to produce. Stand began as a mimeographed magazine with a printed cover. The first issue had twenty pages on light green paper and sold for 8d. Four hundred copies were produced and distributed.

    Jon Silkin continued to produce the magazine until 1957, but then was forced to stop. It was not until 1960, while he held the Gregory Fellowship in poetry at Leeds University, that he began again with volume 4 no. 1, assisted financially by a number of Leeds and Bradford businessmen. The magazine was published from Leeds, without any further subsidy, until 1965. In that year the North East Association for the Arts (later Northern Arts) invited him to base the magazine in Newcastle upon Tyne, and it was published regularly from there until 1999, when the editorial offices moved to Leeds University.


    John Barnard's obituary from Leeds Reporter.

    Rodney Pybus' full obituary from The Independent.

    Fred Beake's review of The Life of Metrical and Free Verse.

    Jon Silkin's "Owen's Strange 'Meeting': A Note for Professor Muir" piece from Connotations 4.1-2.

    Jon Silkin's letter to the New York review of Books about Isaac Rosenberg.

    \ Jon Silkin's "Some Reflections on Anglo-Jewish Poetry" from Jewish Quarterly 5.3.

    Leeds Poetry Collections, 1950-1980, the location of the largest collection of Silkin's papers and the archive of Stand Magazine up to 1995.

    Index to the Jon Silkin papers held at the University of Florida.

    Poems in the New Left Review in 1961.

    Photograph in the National Portrait Gallery.

    Jon Silkin on Geoffrey Hill.

    This page was last updated in November 2013.

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