Poetry of the Committed
Individual: Jon Silkin,
Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill,
and the Poets of Postwar Leeds
Between 1958 and 1960 Jon Silkin revived his literary magazine Stand, which in 1952 had been devoted to the kind of work he would later and famously anthologize as Poetry of the Committed Individual ( 1973). Issuing conspicuously out of the north of England—at that time Leeds, where Silkin had moved to take up his position as Gregory Fellow of Poetry at the university— Stand drew its considerable energies from the charged leftist spirit of its industrial, working-class backdrop, as well as from the international perspective that animated the campus and certain modes of revisionist socialist thought and literary criticism at that point in time. 1 Flipping through its pages from the 1950s and 1960s retrieves many of the early poems of Silkin's colleagues at Leeds, among them Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison, Ken Smith, and Jeffrey Wainwright—all of whom later appeared in Poetry of the Committed Individual, and all of whom published short collections of their early work in a series by Northern House, a small publishing enterprise intimately associated with Stand magazine.
"Commitment," then, to social issues, might seem to be the obvious link from which an essayist hoping to connect this diverse group of writers could proceed.But the word fragments like a figure in a hall of mirrors when invoked in context—during what Fredric Jameson and others have called the beginnings of that "radical break or coupure" at the end of the 1950s 2 with not only the usual list of modernist "grand narratives," visions, and aesthetics but also, and more importantly for our purposes, with what