Chris published his first poem under the 'Gardening' column of the Scarborough Mercury in 1975. In 1982 he began an association with Carcanet Press that has lasted until today.
This page details Chris's current and past poetry.
'Selected Poems published 2011, includes work from 1993 to 2009. The book opens with the prose-poem ‘Dust’ from his 2009 collection Polder, a meditation on extinction: "dust again the voices of the pages and the voices of the lovers". Other voices follow, conversations in which civility, memories of friendship, art and literature respond to the desolation of dust, asserting what can be created out of it.' (jacket quote)
Selected Poems is available from Carcanet Press.
Chris has recently published in Angle magazine. To view and download the latest issue, please click on http://anglepoetry.co.uk/
Old English Poems and Riddles was published by Fyfield Books, a Carcanet imprint, in 2008. Strangely, this little volume has generated more controversy, and has sold better, than much of my other work in verse. Included in the text are some of the great elegies as well as epics and riddles, and I also translated some sections from Beowulf. One or two critics have queried why I didn't translate the whole of the poem. I can only reply that two great friends of mine were then currently working on their own translations of Beowulf, and I thought they had a prior claim, as it were, to the whole poem. There was also the matter of my own limitations. Translating all of Beowulf would be, for me, the poetic equivalent of climbing K2 or playing Beethoven's Op. 111. That is, I suspect it would be too big and exhausting for me. But who knows? Old English Poems and Riddles is available from Carcanet Press.
Polder was published in 2009. The work is in four parts: (i) a longish prose-poem, 'Dust'; (ii) some shorter lyrics; (iii) 'Masterpieces' (poems in dialogue with some of the paintings hanging in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); and (iv) the 'Torquatus' poems. These last are again in dialogue with an eminent Roman lawyer, a friend of the great poet Horace who is mentioned in the 7th poem of the 4th book of Odes. And why did I address these poems to Torquatus? Out of a sense of exile and dislocation I simply borrowed an imaginary friend. I must admit that everyone has seemed to enjoy the 'Torquatus' poems, and they are sometimes even requested at readings, which touches me greatly. Polder is available from Carcanet Press.
The Country of Perhaps was published in 2003. It includes a number of short lyric poems, including award-winning pieces ('Fishermen on Santa Monica Pier'), along with the full text of 'Mass', a piece that took me seven years to complete. The Country of Perhaps is available from Carcanet Press.
'Not Only I' appeared in 1996. I worry sometimes about this collection of poems. Technically-speaking it contains pieces that are among my most sophisticated, but thematically it seems to me now that the collection reads as a somewhat remorseless selection of pieces about love and loss. I suspect that, encouraged by the reception of 'Time Signatures' three years earlier, I was trying too hard, and rushing work into print which would have been better kept and re-worked - or simply junked. Nevertheless, there are single pieces here of which I'm still fond, and I'm quite astonished by my apparent virtuosity - many of whose techniques I seem, ten years on, to have quite forgotten. If I'm being kind, I murmur the phrase '...bravura performance...' If I'm being myself, and therefore grumpy, I murmur the phrase '...just showing off....' Not Only I is available from Carcanet Press.
The Poet's Voice and Craft published 1994 (ed). 'How does a poet go about writing poetry? Chris McCully, himself a poet and teacher of poetry, put this question to thirteen of Britain's most distinguished practitioners, who discuss in these informal essays the techniques of writing poetry, how they structure their writing-the choice of words, sounds (phonology), metrics (or non-metrics), and some of the processes of poetic genesis and re-writing.' (jacket quote)
The Poet's Voice and Craft can be purchased from Carcanet Press.
Time Signatures (published 1993) 'is Chris McCully's first book of poems. It reflects his fascination - as student, scholar and theorist with the procedures of writing verse, especially with rhythmical and metrical structures. The subject-matter here is drawn from the full range of his preoccupations - fly-fishing, teaching, travel, desire and loss. The work is neither "new formalist" nor "post-modern" but rooted in the history of the language and its verse traditions.' (jacket quote)
Time Signatures can be purchased from Carcanet Press.
The year turning
The year turning
Again is republican:
Water so glazed
By snow can’t give
Sky to itself.
There are no views.
And the great trees,
By thirst satisfied,
Have cast their ermines
Into the ditch of winter.
(unpublished poem from workbooks, 2010; revised 2011, ©Chris McCully)
....But what to do? You ask the wrong magician.
I have no gift to conjure cure from seeing.
You could take baths; call in the electrician;
do all the chores in one foul-tempered sweep....
Or none of the above. You could just sleep
while lovely, lost or hurt go on with being.
(fragment from workbooks, 2011, ©Chris McCully)