On Ken Smith
The poems of Ken Smith that mean most to me are contained in The Poet Reclining, Selected Poems from 1962 to 1980, the latter year being when I moved from England to live and work abroad almost permanently.
When I was a student of Political Studies at the University of Leeds from 1968 to 1971 I became involved with the weekly magazine Poetry & Audience (P&A) based in a room in the School of English. In my second and final years I was a member of the editorial board. We were very much in the shadow of a legendary group of Leeds students, Jon Glover, Tony Harrison, Jon Silkin, Ken Smith and Jeffrey Wainwright all of whom had been connected with P&A either as editors or on the editorial board in the 1960s. Jon Silkin was perhaps the most famous in the 1960s and when I reread the two early collections, The Peaceable Kingdom and The Two Freedoms, I always wonder why so much fuss was made about Ted Hughes’s early books.
Silkin was perhaps an important influence on Ken Smith’s early work although the poems in his first full collection, The Pity, could have been written by nobody else. Much of his early poetry emerges out of his childhood with the figure of his father, a farm labourer, presented in an acrimonious but necessary relationship with the land, and with a northern England landscape, the natural elements of which are often harsh and inimical. Smith did write some superb nature poems. His ‘Crocus’ compares to advantage with that of ...
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