Jon Silkin Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In addition to being a noted poet, Jon Silkin (SIHL-kihn) was also an important literary critic, authoring a study of English poetry from World War I, Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War (1972, 1987), and a study of modern twentieth century poetry, The Life of Metrical and Free Verse in Twentieth-Century Poetry (1997). Related to his criticism was his editing of the significant collections The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (1979, 1981), Wilfred Owen: The Poems (1985), The Penguin Book of First World War Prose (coeditor with Jon Glover; 1989), and The War Poems of Wilfred Owen (1994). Silkin also wrote one play, Gurney, published in 1985 and produced in London, as Black Notes, in 1986.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Jon Silkin was honored with the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1965) for Nature with Man and a C. Day Lewis Fellowship (1976-1977), and he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1986). Just as important is Jon Silkin’s inclusion in such prestigious anthologies as New Poets of England and America (1957, 1962), The New Poetry (2d ed., 1966), Poems of Our Moment (1968), British Poetry Since 1945 (1970), The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973), The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973), The Hutchinson Book of Post-War British Poets (1989), and Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (2001). His role as founder and continuing editor of the magazine Stand—devoted first to publishing modern poetry and its criticism, and later including modern fiction—also ensures Silkin a lasting place in the history of modern British literature.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Bell, Arthur, Donald Heiney, and Lenthiel Downs. English Literature: 1900 to the Present. 2d ed. New York: Barron’s, 1994. A section in chapter 12, “Varieties of Experimental Verse,” gives a brief overview of Silkin’s career through 1986, with comments on “Death of a Son” and the flower poems.

Brown, Merle. Double Lyric: Divisiveness and Communal Creativity in Recent English Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Chapter 6, “Stress in Silkin’s Poetry and the Healing Emptiness of America,” is a thirty-three-page survey of Silkin’s work up to 1979 from the perspective of the “stress between imaginative realization and ideological commitment” by Silkin’s most appreciative critic. Brown’s brief “Afterword” is included in the 1975 edition of The Peaceable Kingdom, indicating themes of that book. Silkin composed an elegiac poem about Brown, “Wildness Makes a Form: In Memoriam the Critic Merle Brown.”

Cluysenaar, Anne. “Alone in a Mine of Reality: A Matrix in the Poetry of Jon Silkin.” In British Poetry Since 1960, edited by Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop. Oxford, England: Carcanet Press, 1972. A seven-page survey of Silkin’s poetry books from 1954 to 1971 stresses Silkin’s awareness in his poetry of the interconnectedness of things.

Forbes, Peter, ed. Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry. New York: Penguin, 2000. This anthology covering the poets of the twentieth century chronologically and by theme contains poems by Silkin in its “Lost Tribes” section. Some analysis included.

Huk, Romana. “Poetry of the Committed Individual: Jon Silkin, Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill, and the Poets of Postwar Leeds.” In Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism, edited by James Acheson and Romana Huk. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Taking her title from the title of Silkin’s anthology from Stand magazine, Huk analyzes the poetry from the perspective of political engagement.

Schmidt, Michael. An Introduction to Fifty Modern Poets. 1979. London: Pan Books, 1982. A five-page survey of Silkin’s poetry books from 1954 to 1974 stresses the progression from book to book, as well as the worth of the poetry because of what it attempts despite the “unfinished” quality of individual poems.

Wheatley, David. “Grief and Women.” Review of Making a Republic. Irish Times, August 31, 2002, p. 59. Wheatley notes that although this book is about Silkin’s finding love late in life, instead of being celebratory, it is filled with the theme of British Jewish inheritance.