Image by Benedict Schmidt

Michael Schmidt

b. 1947

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

Pangur Ban

Michael Schmidt

'His father was a baker...'

Michael Schmidt

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About Michael Schmidt

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

2006 OBE for services to poetry and higher education

Selected bibliography

New Poetries IV: An Anthology Carcanet Press Ltd;...

The Resurrection of the Body, Smith/Doorstop, 2006


Collected Poems, Smith/Doorstop 2009

It Was My Tree, Anvil 1970

Bedlam and the Oak Wood, Carcanet 1970

Desert of the Lions, Carcanet 1972

British Poetry since 1960: a critical survey (with G....

My Brother Gloucester, Carcanet 1976

Ten English Poets, Carcanet 1976


A Change of Affairs, Anvil 1978

Fifty English Poets 1300-1900: an introduction, Pan/...

Fifty Modern British Poets: an introduction, Pan/...

British Poetry since 1970: a critical survey (with P....

Eleven British Poets, Methuen/Routledge 1980

The Colonist, Muller/Hutchinson 1983

Choosing a Guest: new and selected poems, Anvil 1983


Reading Modern Poetry, Routledge 1989

The Love of Strangers, Century Hutchinson 1989


The Dresden Gate, Century Hutchinson 1988 / Vanguard (...

On Poets...

New Poetries I, Carcanet 1994


Poets on Poets (with Nick Rennison), Waterstone's /...


New and Selected Poems, Smith/Doorstop 1997


Lives of the Poets, Weidenfeld UK 1998, Knopf USA 1999

The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English...


New Poetries II, Carcanet 1999


The Story of Poetry I: From Cædmon to Caxton, Weidenfeld...


The Story of Poetry II: From Skelton to Dryden,...


New Poetries III, Carcanet 2002


Lives of the Ancient Poets: The Greeks, Weidenfeld UK...

The Great Modern Poets, Quercus 2006


The Resurrection of the Body, Sheep Meadow (USA) / Smith...


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