Michael Donaghy

b. 1954 d. 2004

I'm in it for the discovery. - Michael Donaghy

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About Michael Donaghy

The death of Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) robbed the poetry world of one of its most talented and charismatic practitioners. Born in New York of Irish descent, Donaghy grew up in the Bronx where his exposure to Irish culture instilled in him a life-long love of its traditional music. He studied at Fordham University and Chicago University where he edited The Chicago Review. In 1985 he moved to London with fellow musician, Maddy Paxman, whom he married in 2003. The three collections he published in the UK established his reputation as a meticulous craftsmen with a mercurial imagination and attracted many plaudits including the Geoffrey Faber and Cholmondeley awards and the Whitbread and Forward Prizes.

In 'The Excuse' Donaghy writes, "My people were magicians" and certainly his poetry has a spell-binding quality. Like the metaphysical poets Donaghy so admired, he could produce a metaphor or sustain an elaborate conceit with the flourish of a conjuror producing a rabbit out of a hat. In 'Machines' for example, his unlikely comparison of a racing bike with a Purcell pavane is developed in elegantly rhymed lines, concluding with words that apply equally to Donaghy the poet as they do to bicyclists and harpsichord players "Who only by moving can balance,/Only by balancing move." However, whilst his poetry has a performative element, delighting in puns, paradox and the theatrical use of rhetorical questions and soliloquy, it also has depth. 'Black Ice and Rain' for instance is a tour de force of narrative control but also a disturbing story of soured love, whilst 'Haunts' combines Donaghy's characteristic wit with tenderness as he imagines talking to his son from beyond the grave. Described perceptively by one early critic as "a streetwise don" his erudition is never at the expense of his humanity.

Donaghy was a legendary performer of his own work, reciting his poems from memory and this quality is evident in his recording for the Archive; his voice is light in tone but skips through the intricate patterns of his poetry with ease. It is perfectly suited to the conundrums of his art, its playfulness and seriousness, its "whim of iron" ('Liverpool').

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 17 December 2001 at the Audio Workshop, London, UK and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

The Shape of the Dance: Essays, Interviews and...

Collected Poems, Picador 2009

101 Poems about Childhood (editor), London, Faber...


Conjure, Picdor, 2000


Dances Learned Last Night: Poems 1975-1995, London,...


Penguin Modern Poets 11 (contributor with Andrew Motion...

Errata, Oxford University Press, 1993 - out of print

Shibboleth, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988 - out...



1987 National Poetry Competition (2nd Prize)

Prize website

1990 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

Prize website

1992 Arts Council Writers Award

Prize website

1994 Selected for New Generation Poets Promotion

1999 Arts Council Writers Award

Prize website

1999 The Poetry Society Reader in Residence

Prize website

1999 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website

2000 Poetry Book Society Choice, Conjure

Prize website

2000 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - winner), Conjure

Prize website


Michael Donaghy

Michael Donaghy Reading from His Poems

1Caliban's Books

2Our Life Stories

3Irena of Alexandria

4The Tragedies

5Not Knowing the Words

6The Excuse



9The River in Spate

10The Drop

11Black Ice and Rain


13My Flu


15The Hunter's Purse

16A Repertoire

17A Reprieve


19City of God


21The Brother






27The Present


29Alas, Alice


31Acts of Contrition

32Cruising Byzantium



35Local 32B

Books by Michael Donaghy