'Jon, you could start a row in an empty house'
FROM THE BROTHERTON SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Ken Smith first came into contact with Jon Silkin around 1960, while studying as an undergraduate in the School of English at Leeds University. Although he later described himself then as never having thought of himself as a poet, through Silkin, Geoffrey Hill (one of his tutors) and the creative environment he found himself in, he learned that being a poet was ‘a matter of growth, a way of living, integral,’ and with Silkin he served ‘what was essentially an apprenticeship to a trade.’1
Silkin and Smith had an enduring, if often discordant relationship, shaped by bickering as much as banter – but behind it all was poetry. This is seen in various archives held in Leeds University Library’s Special Collections: alongside Smith’s own archive, the Silkin, Stand and Northern House Archives reveal much about how the poets worked together, their friendship and frustrations.
In a 1965 letter, Smith describes the creativity of the poets assembled in Leeds: ‘If there is a Leeds voice or a Leeds tone or a Leeds style, which I doubt, it is one made up by the work of many writers sharing an environment.’2 As well as writing, Smith edited student magazine Poetry and Audience, before joining Silkin as co-editor of Stand and co-founding Northern House Pamphlet Poets with Silkin and Andrew Gurr. Northern House’s aim was to publish small collections by poets who had not published a collection before or who were neglected. Smith was in the former category at that time, and his Eleven Poems was among the first ...
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