© Image by Benedict Schmidt

Michael Schmidt

(b. 1947)

"Schmidt is always a stringent poet, never shy of painful truth" - Helen Dunmore

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

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Select bibliography

  • Bedlam and the Oak Wood, Carcanet 1970
  • It Was My Tree, Anvil 1970
  • British Poetry since 1960: a critical survey (with G. Lindop), Carcanet 1972
  • Desert of the Lions, Carcanet 1972
  • Ten English Poets, Carcanet 1976
  • My Brother Gloucester, Carcanet 1976
  • Flower & Song: Nahuatl [Aztec] Poetry (edited and translated, with Edward Kissam), Anvil 1977
  • A Change of Affairs, Anvil 1978
  • Fifty Modern British Poets: an introduction, Pan/Heinemann / Barnes & Noble USA 1979
  • Fifty English Poets 1300-1900: an introduction, Pan/Heinemann, Barnes & Noble USA 1979
  • Eleven British Poets, Methuen/Routledge 1980
  • British Poetry since 1970: a critical survey (with P. Jones), Carcanet 1980
  • Choosing a Guest: new and selected poems, Anvil 1983
  • The Colonist, Muller/Hutchinson 1983
  • On Poets & Others, Octavio Paz (edited and translated), Seaver Books NY 1986 / Paladin 1991
  • The Dresden Gate, Century Hutchinson 1988 / Vanguard (USA) 1989
  • The Love of Strangers, Century Hutchinson 1989
  • Reading Modern Poetry, Routledge 1989
  • New Poetries I, Carcanet 1994
  • New and Selected Poems, Smith/Doorstop 1997
  • Poets on Poets (with Nick Rennison), Waterstone's / Carcanet 1997
  • New Poetries II, Carcanet 1999
  • The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, Harvill 1999
  • Lives of the Poets, Weidenfeld UK 1998, Knopf USA 1999
  • The Story of Poetry I: From Cædmon to Caxton, Weidenfeld UK 2001
  • New Poetries III, Carcanet 2002
  • The Story of Poetry II: From Skelton to Dryden, Weidenfeld UK 2002
  • Lives of the Ancient Poets: The Greeks, Weidenfeld UK 2004
  • The Great Modern Poets, Quercus 2006
  • The Resurrection of the Body, Smith/Doorstop, 2006
  • The Resurrection of the Body, Sheep Meadow (USA) / Smith/Doorstop 2007
  • New Poetries IV: An Anthology Carcanet Press Ltd; illustrated edition, 2007
  • Michael Schmidt Reading from his Poems, Poetry Archive 2009
  • Collected Poems, Smith/Doorstop 2009
Michael Schmidt (b. 1947, Mexico City) is a central figure in contemporary poetry. He writes poems and, in addition, he is a founder and the editorial director of Carcanet Press, which started publishing pamphlets in 1969 and is now a substantial poetry press; he is also the founder and managing editor of PN Review, established in 1973. He studied at Harvard and Oxford, and has held academic positions at the University of Glasgow, where he is Professor of Poetry, at the University of Manchester, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he founded the Writing School. As a critic, his work has embraced the full history of poetry in English from Caedmon to contemporary writers, and he has also written a history of classical Greek and translated Aztec poems. He has edited several anthologies, most notably the Harvill Book of Twentieth Century Poetry in English, and his own Selected Poems 1972-1997 was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. He received an OBE for services to poetry and higher education in 2006.

His range of reference is well represented in this reading, with poems rooted in the work of, among others, Hofmannsthal and Pasternak, and paying tribute to the anonymous scribe who immortalised his cat, Pangur Bán; the sequence, 'The Love of Strangers', honours writers important to Schmidt, in this reading Robert Frost and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Other poems spring from love of various kinds and in various seasons. In 'Not Yet', a tree's seasonal beauties become inextricable from the imagined death of a father who had intended to cut it down.

Stories from the Bible, read with the eye of a sensual allegorist, provide the occasion for several poems. 'Sisera' is a love poem to a murderess, and in 'A Dream' Noah worries about his sons and doubts his apocalyptic calling. 'The Resurrection of the Body' asks, given a Jesus who is at once "incarnate God" and palpable flesh, what he feels lifting a mortally ill girl in his arms, and what she feels or we would feel pressed against his bared chest. Even when not drawing on Biblical sources, Schmidt can attain a spiritual and symbolic power that led John Ashbery to describe his work as "vibrant, radiant... steeped in modernist tradition (Yeats and Eliot) and questingly new... a passionate discourse that is at once earthy and numinous".

From his first publication, Schmidt was praised for what John Fuller, in the Listener, called "the natural enthusiasm and chancy drama of the way he writes, its melancholy precision and imagination" - and that balance of precision and enthusiasm is an apt description of his performance in this reading. His brief introductions explain details that might otherwise be obscure, or draw attention to a poem's formal features. It is a reading that confirms James Sutherland-Smith's opinion, in Poetry Review, that "His work offers pleasure, argument and a complex expression of feeling." And Helen Dunmore commented in the Observer, "Schmidt is always a stringent poet, never shy of painful truth".

His recording was made on 15 August 2008 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.


2006 OBE for services to poetry and higher education

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