He was brought up on the outskirts of London in Richmond, and educated at the University of Sussex, and has worked for the Times Literary Supplement since 1981, first as poetry and fiction editor, and then as deputy editor. He was also a poetry critic for The Observer, and the Sunday Independent from 1985-1990. He has edited the "Collected Poems of Ian Hamilton" (Faber&Faber, 2009).
He has taught creative writing for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Arvon Foundation, the Poetry Society, London, and at the American University in Paris. He was a judge for the Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes.
One sometimes thinks that the personal past, those childhood reveries and glints of sunlight on far-off summer lawns that FR Leavis so detested in the work of Edith Sitwell, is about all the modern English poet has left - that, and a fatal habit of parading his influences to the point where what gets written is often only a variation on an existing text. To suggest that the dominant note of Alan Jenkins's new collection is elegiac is not, in the end, to say a great deal, either about his poems, Jenkins himself or even his development as a writer. In the Hot-house (1988), his first outing - this is the fifth - came crammed with exactly the same kind of aching reminiscence: maternal shadows in the Eden-era nursery, the "flushed, unfussed, unreluctant, dapper" figure of Jenkins senior, the rueful acknowledgment of influence, the sail-boat nosing along a pre-lapsarian Thames. All these - taken out, dusted down and re-examined - contribute something to A Shorter Life's prevailing air of lamp-eyed brooding.
Late in this American debut by the British poet Alan Jenkins, the speaker asks himself, "Are you still that suburban / boy who dreamed of taking opium with Baudelaire / or wine with Byron?" Yes and no, the middle-aged poet seems to answer. Throughout this stylish, bitingly autobiographical collection, selected from four previous volumes dating to the late 1980's, we see how Jenkins's early idealism has been transformed by the passage of time. What remains constant is his cool, velvety use of traditional prosody and forms.
A Shorter Life, Alan Jenkins's fifth and best collection, finds the poet less than impressed with his behaviour. The court of the self proves implacable. It is not enough to confess: there has to be judgement, too, in the form of ineradicable self-knowledge. Confession is the mode of the American Robert Lowell, of whom there are faint echoes here, while much of Jenkins's imaginative furniture is French: how interesting, then, that at times he should so strongly recall Philip Larkin, who did not like Abroad but had clearly read its poets all the same.