Well. Don’t all faint with shock, but after my agonising back in June about my failure with challenges and the like, I have actually got going again with a project I started back in 2015 (gulp) – that of reading all 27 of the Penguin Modern Poets collections…. I even gave the project its own page on the site (which is still there and you can go and have an explore if this interests you); and I rather foolishly commented “surely it can’t be *too* difficult to read a slim book of 90 poems – can it??” Obvs it was, because I fell off the wagon in 2016; but having got back on again, as well as hitting a reasonably good period of reading, I am now determined to keep going!

So, onward and upward to volume 7, another book which features three male poets: Richard Murphy, Jon Silkin and Nathaniel Tarn. I *think* I’ve heard of Silkin , but I’m pretty sure I’ve read none of these authors; so this will be something of a voyage of discovery for me and as with previous collections I approached this with absolutely no foreknowledge or preconceptions – any biographical details I give below I found out afterwards! 😀

Richard Murphy (6 August 1927 – 30 January 2018)

Murphy was an Anglo-Irish poet, winner of numerous awards over the years, and with several major collections to his name (including one from Bloodaxe Books, so that’s recommendation.) Personal details are sketchy, but he won a scholarship to Oxford, studying under C.S. Lewis. In later life he lived in Ireland, the USA, South Africa and eventually Sri Lanka, where he died in 2018.

The poems featured here are drawn from a 1963 collection, “Sailing to an Island”, and seem rooted in the Irish landscape and people. There are narrative verses covering “The Cleggan Disaster”; long poems exploring the land; and the one which moved me most was “The Woman of the House”, written in memory of his grandmother. I can’t say I was strongly drawn to the works; I need poetry to speak to me and often this didn’t.

Jon Silkin (2 December 1930 – 25 November 1997)

As I mentioned above, Silkin is a name I recognised, and although I’m pretty sure I’ve never read him before, I did respond to his work much more strongly than Murphy’s. Born of a Jewish immigrant family, Silkin had a long and prolific career as a poet; he also founded the literary magazine Stand which published a wide range of writers, and which he edited until his death. His most famous work, perhaps, is “Death of a Son”, which is included here; and I have to admit that this reduced me to a gibbering wreck… Such is the power of words.

…For a cold, Nothern river,
You see the citizens
indulging stately pleasures
like swans. But they seem so cold.
Why have they been so punished:
In what do their sins consist now?

However, there were many other poems which touched me: “Defence”, with its Cold War context, was chilling; and “Astringencies” (quoted above), looking at Anti-Semitism of the past, were remarkably powerful. So I was touched by Silkin’s works and he’s definitely a poet whose work I would like to read more of.

There is a melancholy feel about many of these poems, which this image kind of represents… (via Wikimedia Commons – Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Nathaniel Tarn (born June 30, 1928)

Tarn is an American poet still with us; born in Paris to a French-Romanian mother and a British-Lithuanian father, he moved to England at the start of World War 2 and eventually emigrated to the USA. As well as a poet, he’s a teacher, essayist, anthropologist and translator, with an impressive range of works to his name.

Grief is so much a now – things cry, believe me,
I have heard them. I have heard their complaint
as the hand and the eye assess them in turn.

At the time of this publication, he was still in the UK and many of these poems are rooted in the British landscape, from Ely to London. Again, his poems are quite immediate, which I liked. “Grief is so Much a Now” particularly appealed, with slight echoes perhaps of e.e. cummings; and I find myself quite keen to explore more of his work to find out how his poetry developed. I believe his works are now published by New Directions, which again is recommendation in itself…


I was very happy to get back on board with this reading project, and there *were* some interesting poems featured. Looking back at my review of Penguin Modern Poets 6 I can see that I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience, and I wonder if that’s why I let my reading of these books lapse. However, I think I’ve accepted that not every poet will resonate with me, and so the experience is to explore what poets were considered worth publishing at the time, seeing how they’re regarded now and sometimes discovering someone I really want to read again. I don’t *have* to like every poem or poet in every book – this is a project of discovery after all.

So an interesting experience, and the next volume has one author with whom I’m familiar – so we shall see how my experience with that one goes! 😀