About Jon Stallworthy
Jon Stallworthy was educated at Dragon School, Rugby School, and Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Poetry Prize while playing rugby for the University, and is now an Emeritus Professor of English. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Literature, and Wolfson College of which he was twice Acting President. His first book of poetry, The Astronomy of Love, was published in 1961, and his most recent volumes include Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems (1998), Body Language (2004), and a pamphlet, War Poet (2009). His poems are often overtly autobiographical, and employ traditional forms in their examinations of war, England, and family. Stallworthy's parents were New Zealanders who came to England in 1934. Forty years later, the poet learnt from an ancestor’s obscure work of New Zealand local history that his great-great-grandfather, George Stallworthy, had left his birthplace – Preston Bissett in Buckinghamshire – for the Marquesa Islands as a missionary. This discovery led his descendant to archival research in England and the Antipodes that would later provide the structure of his fragmentary mini-epic, A Familiar Tree (1978). In this ‘poem for voices’, successive generations of his family trace the trajectory of British history over two centuries of colonial expansion and contraction.
Jon Stallworthy is also a critic, and well known for his literary biographies of Wilfred Owen (honoured with the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and the E. M. Forster Award), and Louis MacNeice (which won the Southern Arts Literature Prize). A fragment of autobiography, Singing School (1998), explores his own development as a maker of poems. As an anthologist, he has edited The Oxford Book of War Poetry (1984), The New Penguin Book of Love Poetry (2003) and, with others, The Norton Anthology of English Literature (since 1987) and The Norton Anthology of Poetry (since 1996). With Peter France he has translated the Selected Poems of Alexander Blok (1974) and Boris Pasternak (1984) for Penguin.
In this generous selection from his body of work recorded for the Poetry Archive, Jon Stallworthy furnishes many of his poems with revealing insights into the situations that inspired them. The poems here address personal – sometimes tragic – events in an immediate and conversation style, yet the directness of his approach belies the room he finds for tenderness and subtle reasoning, as images and voices are replayed through the poet's consciousness. The poems are thoughtful, probing, humane - using the restraints of form to discover unexpected moments of lyric intensity, and always showing a willingness, even in moments of private anguish, to look out into the world and find the extraordinary there.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 16 November 2012 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.
Jon Stallworthy's favourite poetry sayings:
All my life I have been more interested in technique than anything else – W.H. Auden
The conscious problems with which one is concerned in the actual writing are more those of a quasi-musical nature, in the arrangement of metric and pattern, than of a conscious exposition of ideas. – T.S. Eliot
Body Language, Carcanet, 2004
Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems, Carcanet, 1998
The Guest from the Future, Carcanet, 1995
The Astronomy of Love, Oxford University Press, 1961
Jon Stallworthy Reading from his Poems
1A poem is
7The Almond Tree
19A Letter from Berlin
I've avoided poems that other writers here have recommended, but which otherwise would certainly have been on my...