Jon Silkin


Biography of Jon Silkin

Jon Silkin (December 2, 1930–November 25, 1997) was a British poet.

Early life

Jon Silkin was born in London, in a Jewish immigrant family and named after Jon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, and attended Wycliffe College and Dulwich College During the Second World War he was one of the children evacuated from London (in his case, to Wales); he remembered that he "roamed the countryside incessantly" while in Wales, collecting "fool's gold" and exploring old Roman mines. For a period of about six years in the 1950s, after National Service, he supported himself by manual labour and other menial jobs. By 1956 he rented the top-floor flat at 10, Compayne Gardens, Hampstead, the house of Bernice Rubens, who later won the Booker Prize, and her husband Rudolph Nassauer, also a published novelist, later. Silkin, in turn, sublet rooms to, among others, David Mercer, later a prolific TV and West End dramatist, and Malcolm Ross-Macdonald, then a diploma student at the Slade and later a novelist; his first novel, The Big Waves (Cape, 1962) is a roman à clef of life in that flat, in which Silkin features as Somes Arenstein. All three men lived by teaching English as a Foreign Language at the St Giles School of English in Oxford Street.

Poetry

He wrote a number of works on the war poetry of World War I. He was known also as editor of the literary magazine Stand, which he founded in 1952, and which he continued to edit (with a hiatus from 1957 to 1960) until his death.

His first poetry collection, The Peaceable Kingdom was published in 1954. This was followed by several more. The Lens Breakers was published by Sinclair Stevenson in 1992. He edited several anthologies and books of criticism, most notably on the poets of the First World War. He lectured and taught widely, both in Britain and abroad (in among other places the USA, Israel, and Japan).

He began an association with the University of Leeds in 1958, when he was awarded, as a mature student, a two-year Gregory Fellowship, and the archives of "Stand" are now at the university. He moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1965, where he lived until his death.

He was working with Cargo Press on his collection Testament Without Breath at the time of his death in November 1997.

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