Michael Schmidt

August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Interview with Michael Schmidt by Steffy Ubah.

1. Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Mexico, DF in 1947 and grew up there. I am a literary historian, translator, fiction writer and poet.

2. When did you realize that poetry was what you aspired to do?

When I was a boy in Mexico I fell in love with English poetry and started reading and writing when I was about six. I started writing verses when I was six. My first piece of writing which actually was a poem, it was probably when I was twelve and went away to school in the States.

3. What was the first poem you ever wrote?

I have no recollection. At one stage when I was eight I wrote a sonnet for every red letter day in the calendar and sent the book to my grandmother. The first poem I remember was a William Carlos Williams-like poem about
a spider.

4. What is your own definition of poetry?

Like Frank O’Hara, I shy away from definitions because as soon as you define you limit, restrict and, more importantly, you predetermine the space and structure that poems can occupy.

5. Where is your creativity and work inspired from and what does it mean to you?

You keep using the singular, as though there is a direct correlation between a where and a what and a poem. I am stimulated by earlier poetry and as a writer I have gone through numerous apprenticeships. That’s what poets do
generally, I think, from the 14th to the 21st centuries. I tend to be stimulated by formal challenges, syllabics, the avoidance of the iambic foot, etc. I believe a fascination with language, how it works and what it can do, is more important in the long term than subject matter. As soon as a poem has a subject it begins to want to have a use.

6. What poets do you personally like and which of these have inspired you?

If you go to the Carcanet Press website you will find about 1000 poets I like. Among those I publish, especially, Sisson, Davie, Ashbery, O’Hara. Among those I don’t publish (I am speaking of the twentieth and the present centuries,
not the earlier centuries where there are many of my very favorite poets) Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Keith Douglas.

7. What is one of your favorite works that you have done?

A poem called ‘The Resurrection of the Body’

8. Was that your greatest accomplishment as a poet?

Yes, it is.

9. What skill are needed to write a poem?

It depends on the poem, doesn’t it. A poet like Williams or Creeley will have different skills, irreconcilably different skills, from a poet like Larkin or Bishop.

10. What objects, people or surroundings bring you to peace while writing?

Usually if I write I do so when I should be doing something else; repose I do not find conducive to writing, and the peace comes when the poem is written, not before.

11. A a writer, what process do you partake before beginning to write any creative piece?

I don’t have a ritual. I write very infrequently when I have an idea or a commission.

12. Your work has been described as having “a strong sense of internationalism and cultural ‘connectedness’.” Why?

Because I am not British and because for me the great Anglo-American Modernists still speak most lucidly, and Britain is an increasingly narrow space.

13. You are a publisher of Carcanet and editor of the long running magazine PN review. Your editorial seems to be skeptical about poets that serve the market rather than the muse. Could you please expand?

There is today, as never in the past, a market for poetry, largely educational in nature, and poets can write for that market. The teaching of creative writing has raised the level of plausibility among would-be poets who learn the tricks
that entice editors without ever mastering the art of poetry which is not a commercial art, as fiction can be. The poet who sells out to audience and market can make a living, but in the end finds making poetry no more than a sort of copywriting.

14. What would you advise to an aspiring poet?

Read, read out of your period, back to the beginning, and out of your comfort zones. Read and imitate the great poets for a while, play with words, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas.

15. Are you currently working on any new projects?

A history of the Novel in English I have been working on for the last eight years.

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