Ken Smith

(1938 - 2003)

Biography of Ken Smith

Kenneth John Smith, poet, born December 4 1938; died June 27 2003

Ken Smith was born in Rudston, a small village in Yorkshire. His father (a farm worker and then greengrocer shop owner), whose life he explores in an early poem, Family Group, moved around, and Ken attended junior schools all over the county. After grammar school in Hull and Knaresborough, he did national service in the air force from 1958, returned to Hull in 1960 and married his first wife, Ann Minnis.

Known as one of England’s most prominent poets, Smith is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, a fictional work (A Book of Chinese Whispers, 1986), and two works of non-fiction (Inside Time, 1989, and Berlin: Coming in from the Cold, 1990). He was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Award for poetry in 1997 and of the Cholmondely Award for poetry in 1998. His most recent collection of poems, Wild Root (1998), was the autumn 1998 Poetry Book Society Choice, and was nominated for the 1999 T.S. Eliot Award. From 1963 to1969, Smith worked as co-editor of the Stand, and was the founding editor of the South West Review from 1976 to 1978. He was writer-in-residence at Clark University (1972-1973), Leeds University (1976 –1978), and Kingston Polytechnic (1979-1981).

Smith’s verses come to us from a no-man's land that lies in-between placement and displacement. On a rainy Colombian night, he held a poetry reading in the city square in Medellin, and wrote about inmates from Her Majesty’s Prison in Wormwood Scrubs (Wormwood, 1987). In his journey through time, he wrote Tender to the Queen of Spain (1993). In Transylvania, he collected stones “veined with the shapes of letters” and arranged them into a farewell message.

"Ken Smith is a poet who has the ability to craft real poetry, sometimes harsh, sometimes sentimental, but never to be ignored." L K Robinson

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In the Next Street

there’s only ever one argument: his,
bawling out whoever punctuates
the brief intervals his cussing
interrupts, something unheard, reason perhaps.

What you never get is silence,
always some groan on the horizon
out on the borders of attention

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