Glover, Jon(athan Martin)

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GLOVER, Jon(athan Martin)

Nationality: British. Born: Sheffield, Yorkshire, 13 May 1943. Education: Leeds University, 1962–68, B.A. (honors) 1965, M.Phil.1969. Family: Married Elaine Alice Shaver in 1965; two daughters. Career: Lecturer, Elmira College, Elmira, New York, 1966–67, Leeds College of Technology, 1967–68. Since 1968 lecturer, senior lecturer, principal lecturer, and then professor, Bolton Institute. Address: 3 Lightburne Avenue, Bolton, Lancashire BL1 4PL, England.



The Grass's Time. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1970.

The Wall and the Candle. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1983.

Our Photographs. Manchester, Carcanet, 1986.

To the Niagara Frontier. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.


Editor, with Jon Silkin, The Penguin Book of First World War Prose. London and New York, Penguin, 1989.

Translator, Notes for a Survivor by Emanuel Litvinoff. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1973.


Jon Glover comments:

I started to write at Leeds University. There were many important poets living and working in Leeds at the time, including Jon Silkin, Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison, Peter Redgrove, Ken Smith, Jeffrey Wainwright, and David Wright. We met in seminars, lectures, and poetry readings and joined in the business of writing for and helping to produce a number of magazines, including the unique weekly Poetry and Audience and, later, Stand, which has been very much part of my life ever since, both as an influence on my thought and poems and as a practical activity (helping to edit, parcel, and invoice). Jon Silkin has been a continuing source of insight and inspiration not only through his poetry and criticism but through his editorial work on the poets of the Great War. We have worked together on The Penguin Book of First World War Prose.

Dominant ideas derived from this period included the notion of poetry as part of a chain of communication linking evaluation and response to the events of the past with a sense of the unsteady narratives of the present. There may be some sense of political analysis and commitment mediated through the fractured pictures that bring many of the poems into being, although this is tempered and ironized through a sense of the slipperiness of language. There is also a commitment to find meanings and gifts of love in the imagery of landscape, the constructions and deconstructions of our places of habitation.

*  *  *

Jon Glover's poems are characterized by two complementary forces—the need to mistrust and the desire to let go. These forces find themselves linguistically and ideologically in the gulf between two worlds of intimate experience: an England of childhood values, questions, and irrecoverable loss, and an America (mainly the landscape of upstate New York) of discovery and of precious, small identities. In between are a number of lost worlds. These are presented as mid-Atlantic dislocations, though there are poems of "flight," perhaps in both senses, but as an attempt to review cultural origins as the artifacts and occasions of movement between cultures, histories, and futures that erupt and establish identity in the business of exchange.

The poems of The Grass's Time grew from Glover's first stay in the United States, where he lived as an immigrant with his American wife during the height of the Vietnam War. It was a time of disillusionment on the one hand and affirmation on the other. The intense awareness of political failure and personal powerlessness mixed with the realities of protest offered a test bed for identity, the never again certainties of growing up in a socialist family in the bomb-scarred cities of England thrown into confusion by the bomb-happy world of independent and innocent America. Poems became tokens in the cross fire, in the exchange of worlds that seemed angry with each other.

Glover later began to explore this process of exchange in which no identity was true and no single language offered accurate description. His method was to use a form of the multivoiced narrative poem sequence in which a nameless emigrant from a Scottish island explores the United States and his own memories. In Our Photographs mistrust is set free through poems that move from prose to verse and back again and that explore alternative languages for the same circumstance. "Pure" and "Nature" both "set up" in fairly clear prose the grounds for a linguistically richer "poem." The following quotation from "Nature" concerns the beauty of butterflies and the strange motives of the collector:

   Still I have nowhere for this. And, finally, to set things in a
   house would create a stillness shut from the sun, a civilisation
   that I go on trying to leave.
   From earth colours and its skin
   of thin dry crystal,
   its fragile liquids snap out and are gone.
   …These human qualities
   want them collected, row upon row,
   preserving each as a separate
   kingdom of man's desire?
   Like cold, pinned galaxies?

Based on a photograph by the New York artist Nancy Shaver, "Our Photographs" is one of Glover's most important poems of the many that interact between the pictorial "claim" (in the sense of establishing the rights—whatever they may be—to ownership) and the pictorial "legacy" (in which the rights are remade or lost to the processes of history). The poems mark their awareness of the disappearing claim by contributing further to the means of destruction, although there are poems that celebrate the attempts to preserve as well as those which lament the hopeless energies of art.

Later work by Glover, for example "Risk," which appeared in Stand in 1995, seems to be taking a new direction. The very title "Risk," which celebrates the latent energy of a horse being groomed, perhaps indicates a way out of the disorientation that stemmed from a desire for total mistrust and total freedom:

   …Out there
   the light so far away, it's cross; moving
   away to a jump, momentarily.
   It's in the middle of a bridge, a tear,
   a value, splitting hairs, a parting. What's
   lamented is all that's present. Gifted.

—Jon Silkin