Silkin, Jon

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SILKIN, JON (1930–1997), English poet. Born in London, the son of a solicitor, Jon Silkin was a nephew of the British socialist politician Lewis *Silkin. He was educated at Jewish schools, in Wales, and at Dulwich College. At the age of 32, in 1962, he took a first-class degree at Leeds University. Silkin spent some years as a laborer before turning to the writing of poetry. In 1958, he was appointed Fellow in Poetry at Leeds University, but spent much of his time editing Stand, an avant-garde literary magazine which he had founded in 1957. Silkin's own early books of verse were The Peaceable Kingdom (1954), and The Two Freedoms (1958). In The Reordering of the Stones (1961) he experimented with a new and extreme terseness of language and he began to explore fresh terrain with his sequence of Flower Poems, republished in Nature with Man (1965), which reinterpreted familiar plants and flowers in political or social terms. His Poems, New and Selected appeared in 1966. His most celebrated poem is "Death of a Son," dedicated to a one-year-old child who died in a mental hospital. A highly individual critic, he was particularly interested in the poetry of World War i, and was an authority on Isaac *Rosenberg. He wrote an interesting book on World War i poets, Out of Battle (1972), and edited the anthology The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (1979). Silkin lived much of his life in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He visited Israel several times and wrote poetry on his Jewish background, which was collected in Testament Without Breath (1998).


Abse, in: Jewish Quarterly, 13 no.3 (Autumn 1965), 10–11. add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Philip D. Hobsbaum]