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Making a Republic
Categories: 20th Century, British, Jewish
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
I have spaded over the Jews' field, of London
how fresh with the dead it looks. Yet in
which coffin, what stone
cast over, and where then forsaken is she?
Among minute untended
flowers that will persist over graves,
in the hundred versions of grass, in the common multitudes
of comely growth and style, covered by soot and dew,
she is she who will not come again.
from 'The Jews of England'
Jon Silkin died in November 1997. He had completed a new volume of poems which he called Making a Republic. The title relates to his first, most celebrated book, The Peaceable Kingdom. All through his life he felt acutely the problematic ways in which men and women, human beings and animals, co-exist. He wrote in Stand in 1978 about the American artist Hicks' 'Peaceable Kingdom', noting: 'he never named his paintings "The Peaceable Republic"'. If there were to be a monarchy in Hicks' and Silkins' work it would be that 'the intelligence of love is king'. For Silkin, without some monarchic power the Republic is partly a world of equality, partly a world of death. These are poems of lament for parents and lost love. They are also angry and sad celebration - exploring gifts from the dead and transforming states of love: 'we, without the single, watery, blessed state, / are yet like water mixed' ('Watersmeet'). There is a demanding lyric quality in these poems, written whilst Silkin was aware of his own illness, unmatched in his work since 'Death of a Son', which John Berryman described as being 'as brave, and harrowing, as one might think a piece could'.
Praise for Jon Silkin 'It's impossible to do justice to a driven lifetime's worth of work. Final plaudits are very much due to editors Jon Glover and Kathryn Jenner who, having painstakingly constructed such a thorough and intelligently sequenced summary of Silkin's poetic output, have also managed to make a compelling case for reappraising his reputation as more than a poet of his own time. Within this comely breezeblock of post-Second World War verse, ther is much that ought to interest, inspire and concern our own faltering century.'
'Complete Poems enjoins a new perception of Silkinâs language and concerns, the breadth of his passionately humane interrogation of war and the Holocaust, and his scrutiny of nature and humankind.'
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