© Image by Caroline Forbes

Christopher Middleton

(b. 1926)

"He is an incomparable stylist, a wry ironist, a philosopher of words.  The only category in which he fits justly is that of poet." (Guy Davenport)

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Torse 3: Poems 1948-61, Longmans / Harcourt Brace, 1962 - out of print
  • Modern German Poetry 1910-60 (with Michael Hamburger), McGibbon & Kee / Grove Press, 1962 - out of print
  • Nonsequences / Selfpoems, Longmans / W.W. Norton, 1965 - out of print
  • Our Flowers & Nice Bones, Fulcrum Press 1969 - out of print
  • Nietzsche: Selected Letters (translator), University of Chicago Press 1969 - out of print
  • Friedrich Hölderlin and Eduard Mörike, Selected Poems (translator), University of Chicago Press 1972 - out of print
  • The Lonely Suppers of W. V. Balloon, Carcanet 1975 - out of print
  • Pataxanadu and other prose, Carcanet 1977 - out of print
  • Bolshevism in Art and Other Expository Writings (essays), Carcanet 1978 - out of print
  • Carminalenia, Carcanet 1981 - out of print
  • 111 Poems, Carcanet 1981 - out of print
  • The Pursuit of the Kingfisher, Carcanet 1983 - out of print
  • Robert Walser, Selected Stories (editor / translator), Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1983 / New York Review Books 2001
  • Goethe, Selected Poems (editor / translator), Suhrkamp Verlag 1983
  • Serpentine (prose), Oasis Press 1985 - out of print
  • Two Horse Wagon Going By, Carcanet 1986 - out of print
  • Selected Writings, Carcanet 1989 - out of print
  • The Balcony Tree, Carcanet / The Sheep Meadow Press 1992 - out of print
  • Andalusian Poems (editor, with Leticia Garza-Falcón), David R. Godine 1993
  • Intimate Chronicles, The Sheep Meadow Press / Carcanet 1996
  • Some Dogs Enitharmon Press, 1997
  • Jackdaw Jiving: Selected Essays on Poetry and Translation, Carcanet 1998
  • In the Mirror of the Eighth King (prose), Green Integer 1999
  • Faint Harps and Silver Voices: Selected Translations, Carcanet 2000
  • The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems, The Sheep Meadow Press / Carcanet 2001
  • Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark Enitharmon Press, 2002
  • Crypto-Topographia: Stories of Secret Places, Enitharmon 2002
  • Of the Mortal Fire, Sheep Meadow Press 2003
  • The Anti-Basilisk, Carcanet 2005
  • Tankard Cat Sheep Meadow Press,U.S., 2005
  • Christopher Middleton Reading from his Poems, Poetry Archive 2005
  • Tenor on Horseback Sheep Meadow Press,U.S., 2007
  • Collected Poems, Carcanet 2008
Christopher Middleton (b. 1926) is best known for his poems, short prose, essays, and translations. He served in the RAF from 1944 to 1948, then attended Merton College, Oxford. After a spell of teaching English at the University of Zürich (1952-55), he became Lecturer (eventually Senior Lecturer) in German at King's College London (1955-65). From 1966 till 1998 he was Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature at the University of Texas, Austin; a further title was added in 1986, David J Bruton Centennial Prefessor of Modern Languages (he was active in the Comparative Literature Program). For Torse 3 he shared the Geoffrey Faber award, and was awarded in 1987 the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize. In the USA he is a "resident alien".

This reading features poems from two sequences, Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (1999) and The Fossil Fish (1969), plus 'Little William', an exploration of the child Shakespeare’s responses to music and words. Middleton describes the first sequence as "A series written at the close of the century and during the East Timor massacres [that] finds no end to the purgatory ablaze under the vestiges of an Epicurean paradox", and embraces a range of experience from the Kalashnikovs and the machete in 'A Far Cry from Fear Island' to the irresistible treats - 'jellies, twists / / of sugar firming cream into a script' - that are matched by the verbal exuberance portraying these details in 'A Sybaritic Elegy'. 'The Digging' presents a speaker who looks with nostalgia at 'A sunlit vault where the dead lay, smiling' as a horrific mass grave is revealed; a quest for refined pleasures can offer no response but to "return ... to simple tombs." 'Something Vesperal' turns his acute attention to these details on itself, recording how the initial, spectral apprehension is later refined.

This recording is as happy with the quick delivery demanded by the earlier sequence, The Fossil Fish, consisting of brief imagistic texts, as it is with the longer cadences of Twenty Tropes. Middleton is a fine reader, and he is confident in performing the voices of different speakers (e.g., with a French accent for Charles Meryon in Twenty Tropes). His introductions contextualise the poems without restricting them. This reading presents clear proof that Middleton is, in Guy Davenport’s description, "an incomparable stylist, a wry ironist, a philosopher of words."

His recording was made on 2 June 2003 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Christopher Middleton's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Poetry shakes the laughter out of the apple tree" - Tristan Tzara

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