Jon Silkin Silkin, Jon (Vol. 2) - Essay

Silkin, Jon (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Silkin, Jon 1930–

A British poet, Silkin is the author of The Peaceable Kingdom and The Re-ordering of the Stones. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Jon Silkin has a careful eye for appraisal. Constructing his landscapes, he deals with the physical world as an organic architect might, deriving from the land the inner necessity for the man-made structure, balancing rather than imposing. His poems probe the regions of stone and plant carefully, as if by continuous discovery he might find his place in the scheme of things….

The poems flow, lyric and statement enhanced by images into a total shape. Mr. Silkin's fine sensory reporting allows the reader to examine each thing as if it were in his own hands, and the poems are presented in this way, given carefully, with delicate thrusts, as if they were costly presents. I think they are. And I thank Mr. Silkin for them.

Adrianne Marcus, in Shenandoah, Spring, 1967, pp. 88-9.

To observe that Jon Silkin has consistently proved himself one of the more interesting and accomplished of the "younger" British poets is, in my opinion, not exactly to heap him with accolades. Yet Mr. Silkin's achievements transcend this rather limited judgment, at least to some extent: at his infrequent best, in perhaps a dozen of his poems across the past dozen years or so, he has struck me as potentially among the more interesting and accomplished poets, of whatever age, currently writing in English. It is true that large areas of poetic possibility, areas that count profoundly, appear to lie well beyond his attainment. It is true, furthermore, that to like him you have to like a particular order of verse: a hard, tight, economical verse in which (usually) words are employed as grudgingly as Webern employed notes: a verse in which (usually) the tiny lines rest on the page with a snowflake's ease and lightness. You also have to like love poems: love that discovers its occasions in flowers and birds and animals, in the death of a one-year-old son in a mental hospital or the "small brown death" of a fly. On such terms, however—on his own carefully chalked-out terms—Mr. Silkin can occasionally be very good indeed, a poet gratifyingly free of fuss and clutter and posturing.

Robert L. Stilwell, in Sewanee Review (© 1968 by The University of the South), Summer, 1968, p. 533.

Jon Silkin, discontented with the dry, witty perfection he had achieved in his natural history fables, is breaking new ground [in Amana Grass] for himself, moving far afield to gather evidence more human of his implicit subject, the survival of the fittest…. New directions are transforming his poetry into a medium not yet freer but more elaborated and gregarious. He runs the risk of becoming didactic at the expense of poetic feeling and tempo. For some of his new ventures he adopts a monotonous scheme: looping statements together in a strict succession of subject-predicate….

One respects the inner demand that bids Silkin externalize in other directions than heretofore…. In any case, changes have been radically brought about. Now we reap the whirlwind. Silkin must modify his consciousness in his own way, of course, and in his Palestine poems he does submerge himself in the milieu with unbelievable empathy. However, he pays for the effort; his language fails him, knots, groans, begins to sound like MacDiarmid at his crankiest. If Silkin is sufficiently flexible he may survive this passage to acquire a new clarity with another texture. For the time being, the old clarity is his purest claim on poetry.

Vernon Young, in Hudson Review, Winter, 1971–72, pp. 680-81.

The new volume [Amana Grass] by Jon Silkin is closely related to the current work of the "Iowa School." Visiting from England, Silkin was in residence at Iowa State during the late 1960's, and the poems that make up this book's first two sections are derived from his midwestern experience. His book's kinship with American writers may be found in its tendency to burrow deep into natural imagery, to feel the movement of roots below the cornstalks, to grip the minute actions of nature, sometimes as the agent of menace and decay, but more often as a reassurance against the anguish in the world of men. These, of course, are themes that Silkin has long ago treated in England, especially in his brilliant series of "Flower Poems." But all his practice has not served to prepare him for the vast stretches of the midwest terrain, or for the period of unusual violence that he met during several visits here in the 1960's. Like many Englishmen who have recently spent a considerable time here, Silkin is appalled at the "brutality" that he finds enacted in these spaces….

Silkin is one of the best poets now writing in England, a better poet, I think, than others … who have attained greater notoriety. Silkin ought to be much more widely read: he is a legitimate heir of Wordsworth.

Louis L. Martz, in The Yale Review (© 1972 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Spring, 1972, pp. 418-21.

Silkin is a poet with social convictions that do not find expression in easy politicising. His interest is in exploring basic relationships.

Many, if not most, of his poems are technically flawed. There are recurrent obscurities of diction—an elaborate, often archaic or poetical diction; there is excessive punctuation, a blurred syntactical line. These qualities make the poems hard reading, but what is flawed in Silkin is still substantial. The humanity of the poems, their concern with situations of relationship, suffering, and death, and the strong tone of voice with an "I" not self-assertive but perceptive, redeem the frequent clumsiness….

Solitude is another of Silkin's obsessive themes, and the solitude that is induced by suffering he expresses best….

In most of Silkin's poems, apart from the intellectual structure, there is a strong sound structure carried by alliteration, internal rhyme, and assonance which gives the poems an effective, clotted rhythmic coherence….

[We] could hardly find a poet more willing to let us into the confidence of his processes of thought and feeling, to observe, as if with him, the images struggling out. It is this honesty amounting to truth which most recommends him.

Michael Schmidt, "A Defence," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), June, 1972, pp. 170-81.