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Robin Skelton, the poet

Robin Skelton


Born and brought up in the East Yorkshire village of Easington, Robin Skelton was the son of Cyril Skelton, headmaster of the village school. After serving in the RAF in the Second World War, he obtained First Class Honours BA and MA degrees at Leeds University. From 1951 to 1963 he was a lecturer in the English Department of Manchester University, where he began his long and fruitful career as a writer, publisher, artist, and poet, served as a chairman of examiners of the Northern Universities Matriculation Board, and co-founded the Peterloo Group of artists and the Manchester Institute of Contemporary Arts. In 1963 he emigrated to Canada to take up a post in the English Department of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. He was appointed Professor of English there in 1966 and later became Director of its Department of Creative Writing and founding editor of the prestigious international journal, the Malahat Review.


In his lifetime Robin Skelton was the author of more than 100 books. These included not only collections of his poetry but also novels and short stories, anthologies of the work of other poets, studies in versification, numerous scholarly works of literary criticism, and, rather surprisingly, a number of works on the occult. He is best known, however, for his poetry which is as he would have wished. Although well known and respected as a poet in this country before he emigrated, he became less well known after taking up residence in Canada where he enjoyed a reputation as the country’s unofficial poet laureate, held office as Chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and is still highly honoured today. Unfortunately he is now little known and but rarely anthologized this side of the Atlantic, which is a great pity as his poetry is powerful, haunting, and insightful and has a tremendous range of style and voices. Many of his poems show the strong influence of his boyhood in Easington and use the imagery of the sea, its tides and pebbled beaches, and the distant horizons across the Humber mudflats.

Robin Skelton was an impressive yet eccentric figure whose appearance with long hair and flowing beard corresponded to the popular idea of how a poet ought to look! When he died in 1997 he was mourned by generations of Canadian students who felt they owed so much to this multi-talented, energetic, creative and most human of men.