Biography of Ken Smith
Kenneth John Smith, poet, born December 4 1938; died June 27 2003
Ken Smith was born in Rudston, a small village in Yorkshire. His father (a farm worker and then greengrocer shop owner), whose life he explores in an early poem, Family Group, moved around, and Ken attended junior schools all over the county. After grammar school in Hull and Knaresborough, he did national service in the air force from 1958, returned to Hull in 1960 and married his first wife, Ann Minnis.
Known as one of England’s most prominent poets, Smith is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, a fictional work (A Book of Chinese Whispers, 1986), and two works of non-fiction (Inside Time, 1989, and Berlin: Coming in from the Cold, 1990). He was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Award for poetry in 1997 and of the Cholmondely Award for poetry in 1998. His most recent collection of poems, Wild Root (1998), was the autumn 1998 Poetry Book Society Choice, and was nominated for the 1999 T.S. Eliot Award. From 1963 to1969, Smith worked as co-editor of the Stand, and was the founding editor of the South West Review from 1976 to 1978. He was writer-in-residence at Clark University (1972-1973), Leeds University (1976 –1978), and Kingston Polytechnic (1979-1981).
Smith’s verses come to us from a no-man's land that lies in-between placement and displacement. On a rainy Colombian night, he held a poetry reading in the city square in Medellin, and wrote about inmates from Her Majesty’s Prison in Wormwood Scrubs (Wormwood, 1987). In his journey through time, he wrote Tender to the Queen of Spain (1993). In Transylvania, he collected stones “veined with the shapes of letters” and arranged them into a farewell message.
"Ken Smith is a poet who has the ability to craft real poetry, sometimes harsh, sometimes sentimental, but never to be ignored." L K Robinson
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Ken Smith Poems
The Secret Police
They are listening in the wires, in the walls, under the eaves in the wings of house martins, in the ears of old women,
one thing then another one story then another conversation always interrupted by another conversation
The Shadow of God
To Mohács in the marshlands, still in the pouring rain, August 29th, 1526, where those summoned and hastily gathered died in thousands
They spent my life plotting against me. With nothing to do but cultivate themselves, but to be there, aligning their shadows, they were planning to undo me,
Duck at Haldon Ponds
At evening watches the duck slow feeding the waterline. Praises the duck. Such a fine
After Max Ernst's 'Europe after the Rain' In the dark each sits alone
In the Next Street
there’s only ever one argument: his, bawling out whoever punctuates the brief intervals his cussing | interrupts, something unheard, reason perhaps.
Encounter at St. Martin's
I tell a wanderer's tale, the same I began long ago, a boy in a barn, I am always lost in it. THe place is always strange to me. In my pocket
The Window of Vulnerability
Sure today it could come in a fast plane named perhaps for the pilot's mother, the city ends in a smear in the road and that in a child's shoe. No one
They spent my life plotting against me.
With nothing to do but cultivate themselves,
but to be there, aligning their shadows,
they were planning to undo me,
wanting to own me completely.
They have marched through the rooms,
their presences litter the surfaces
close at my elbow calling attention.