Jon Silkin

Jon Silkin most recent books are Collected Poems and a collection of verse, The Psalms and their Spoils. He is co-editor of Stand.

Poem: ‘The Fathers’

Jon Silkin, 4 November 1993

A dog-lion’s haunched triangular fury guards the dead. He says, ‘several things:

first I bite, then in death I guard you.’ ‘Besides, I don’t want it,’ I said. ‘Then forgive me.’

‘I’ll guard my own death,’ I say. So then he bites me. Meanwhile a little swooning

in the blood. I tell this dental fool, ‘I am the right, and...

Poem: ‘Gypsy Moth’

Jon Silkin, 2 February 1989

A Gypsy Moth holds a castle of bruised rose in its sights, the engine beating like a moth’s wings, but the moths beat against or tumble over the walls, across beams of light, on glass, and in the windows – their sensors, their furred heads, winged bodies with a burning sense of the bulbs naked over the readers. Lightly they wipe their webbed flesh on our cheekbones, and we imagine...

Poem: ‘Paying for forgiveness’

Jon Silkin, 18 December 1986

In a Trailways, shaking over red clay, wild poor shapes hang in a sulky wind of glazed polythene. As we start, a child bellows softly, she mews at her mother’s breasts pressed up into the v of an ill-made blouse. The gaze is cheerful, her repose her daughter’s sleep, father unfolding in it like the soiled shapes of duster he cannot sell.

The planted rows, the dead all men, their...

For gas the house waters carbide, often meagre for burning, though our lungs cough up a shred of acid that we sicken on. Up at

plastered stone, flaky and gravid, the sheep butt: smudged with an orange dye wool inside mist wastes at the mothy house. Then gas heaves. Quick, turn the spiggots, across their limp flow, igniting this powdery whiteness damped to gas, a flame that looms, raising a...


Forms and Inspirations

29 September 1988

May I make one reservation with respect to Vikram Seth’s lucid and interesting essay on his poetry (LRB, 29 September), with its persuasive apologia for regular form and rhyme? In his useful discussion of the first four lines of Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ he rightly says that the fourth version he quotes is ‘less dense, less compressed than the third draft’ and concludes: ‘ “Load...


Derek Mahon, 5 June 1980

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I have taken the full measure, or anything like it, of Middleton’s Carminalenia, an intensely difficult collection about as far removed from...

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Christopher Reid, 15 May 1980

The Parisian Surrealists appear to have taken their games-playing very seriously. Ritual imitations of the creative act – involving the practice of automatic writing, a deep faith in the...

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