Jordan is educated at Synge Street CBS, University College Dublin (UCD) and Pembroke College, Oxford. In his teens he acts on the stage of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, before winning a Scholarship in English and French to the University of Oxford from UCD. In the mid-1950s he returns to UCD as a lecturer in English and teaches there until the end of the 1960s. He also lectures on sabbatical leave at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and briefly at Princeton University in the United States. He is a founding member of Aosdána. He is a celebrated literary critic from the late 1950s until his death on June 6, 1988 in Cardiff, Wales, where he had been participating in the Merriman Summer School.
In 1962 Jordan re-founds and edits the literary magazine Poetry Ireland in hopes of contributing towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre. In this journal, he introduces a number of poets who are to become quite famous later, including Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and Seamus Heaney. This series of Poetry Ireland lasts until 1968–69.
In 1981 Jordan becomes the first editor of the new magazine published by the Poetry Ireland Society, called Poetry Ireland Review. He serves as a reviewer of novels for The Irish Times, writes a column for Hibernia, contributes to Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art and The Irish Press among others, a serves as a TV presenter and arts interviewer. He is a defender of Gaelic literature, translates Pádraic Ó Conaire, edits The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Mercier Press, 1977), and champions the later plays of Seán O’Casey. His translation of one of Aogán Ó Rathaille‘s essays is published in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (London: Allen Lane, 1982).
Jordan’s Collected Poems (Dedalus Press) and Collected Stories (Poolbeg Press) are edited by his literary executor, Hugh McFadden, and published in Dublin in 1991. His Selected Prose, Crystal Clear, also edited by McFadden, is published by The Lilliput Press in Dublin in 2006. His Selected Poems, edited with an introduction by McFadden, is published in February 2008 by Dedalus Press. Uncollected stories appear in Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, Cyphers, and The Irish Press, among other places.
Jordan’s literary papers and letters are held in the National Library of Ireland. In 1953 the young Irish artist Reginald Gray is commissioned by University College Dublin to design the decor and costumes for their production of “The Kings Threshold” by William Butler Yeats. The leading role is given to Jordan. During the preparations for the production, Gray starts a portrait of Jordan, which he never finishes. This work now hangs in the Dublin Writers Museum.
(Pictured: John Jordan, by Patrick Swift, c. 1950)