Robin Skelton | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robin Skelton

Robin Skelton, poet, critic, publisher, artist, educator (b at Easington, East Yorkshire, Eng 12 Oct 1925; d at Victoria, BC 22 Aug 1997).

Skelton, Robin

Robin Skelton, poet, critic, publisher, artist, educator (b at Easington, East Yorkshire, Eng 12 Oct 1925; d at Victoria, BC 22 Aug 1997). Raised in England, Robin Skelton served in the RAF, was educated at Leeds University (BA 1950; MA 1951), and taught at the University of Manchester from 1951 to 1963. In 1963 he immigrated to Canada to teach at the University of Victoria, where he helped establish its Creative Writing Department. He became a champion for arts in Victoria, regularly hosting literary salons at his home, encouraging young writers such as MARILYN BOWERING, and co-founding The Malahat Review.


An extremely prolific author, critic, anthologist and translator, Robin Skelton wrote and edited over 100 works, but "preferred to be mainly regarded as a poet." His 40 plus volumes of poetry are a testament to his tireless experimentation and draw on a wide range of influences, from Japanese poetry to surrealism and beyond. Although his poetry cannot easily be summarized, it is often preoccupied with the relationship between the spirit and the body. A meditative poet, his work searches for a balance between reason and feeling, certitude and doubt, while remaining rooted in the physical world.

His first book of poems, Patmos and Other Poems (1955), was published in England, and established his reputation as a poet before he immigrated. Among the many titles that followed are: Selected Poems 1947-1967 (1968), Musebook (1972), Word song (1983), Distances (1985), Wrestling the Angel: Collected Shorter Poems 1947-1977 (1994), The Edge of Time (1995), nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, One Leaf Shaking: Collected Later Poems (1995 rpr. 2000), Popping Fuchsias: Poems, 1987-1992 (1992), the posthumously published Facing the Light (1997), and The Shapes of Our Singing (1999), which offers examples of every known verse form.

In a trilogy of works about poetry, The Practice of Poetry (1971), The Poet's Calling (1975) and Poetic Truth (1978), Robin Skelton attempted to define the poet's nature and function in contemporary society, demonstrating how emotion, intellect and imagination are inseparably linked with poetic technique.


Robin Skelton's metaphysical concerns are also evident in his writings on witchcraft and the occult, which include Spellcraft: A Manual of Verbal Magic (1978), Talismanic Magic (1985) and The Magical Practice of Talismans (1991). As an authority on Wicca, he was an expert witness at the 100 Huntley Street trial, which led to the legal distinction between witchcraft and Satanism.

Other Work

An equally productive academic writer, Robin Skelton wrote 3 books on the life and works of poet and playwright J.M. Synge and was an authority on the Irish literary renaissance, with a particular interest in Yeats. His many other works include novels, such as The Parrot Who Could (1987) and Higgledy Piggledy (1992), a social history of the Cariboo district in British Columbia, They Call It The Cariboo (1980), and two autobiographies, The Memoirs of a Literary Blockhead (1988) and Portrait of My Father (1989).

A selection of Robin Skelton's life's poetry, In This Poem I Am, was published in 2008.