Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling account of the entire history of poetry in the English language -- from the fourteenth century to the present -- by one of the most intelligent and passionate critics in the field.
Setting out to write his own homage to Samuel Johnson's legendary Lives of the English Poets of more than two hundred years ago, Michael Schmidt introduces us to the world tradition of poets who have written in English. From the rustic rhythms of Piers Plowman to today's postmodernists, from fifteenth-century Scotland to the contemporary Caribbean, Schmidt explores the lives and creations of more than three hundred poets, discussing their best (and sometimes worst) poems, their triumphs and tragedies, their individual genius. Here is the shared universe and work of so many great poets, including Chaucer, Donne, Blake, Behn, Burns, Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Rossetti, Yeats, Stevens, Lowell, Bishop, Ginsberg, Rich and Heaney, to name but a few. Schmidt also embraces the extraordinary poetry now emerging from Australia, New Zealand, India and other countries, and shows how these varied landscapes and cultures make their contributions to our common language. Tracing the themes and achievements of each poet's work, Schmidt demonstrates with wit and erudition how poets overshadow and inspire one another across the centuries. En route, he champions some unjustly neglected voices and outlines the ways in which history and politics intervene to shape (or sometimes misshape) the poetic imagination.
With infectious enthusiasm and avoiding all fashionable jargon, Schmidt speaks unapologetically for a common language -- the language of poetry, which unites people across continents and across the ages. For anyone who has ever been moved by a poem, a rich and important book.
About the Author
Michael Schmidt is the editor of PN Review, which he established in 1972; the founder and editorial director of Carcanet Press, which publishes poetry and fiction; and the director of the writing school at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England.