Chris McCully


Selected Poems by Chris McCully book cover 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. ­Carcanet have brought out seven collections of Chris's poems and translations, the most recent being Serengeti Songs (2016, please see below) and Chris's translation of Beowulf (2018) - complete with an extended 'Afterword'. In 2021, Muscaliet published The English Funerals; these explore some aspects of English history and culture in a highly compressed, ten-line form which alludes to some features of epic. Chris has also begun to complete the editing of a new collection of verse, working title A Few Late Wasps, which may in turn form the opening to a more extensive volume of Collected Poems (scheduled for publication in 2023). To write in the first person for a moment: I find (as many others have found) that as I get older, although the voice and aspects of formal control are no less assured, and may even be more so, the finish of the thing becomes more difficult and may even be permanently elusive.

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 relevant issue, please click on

Covers of Chris McCully's poetry books 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. These last have been (as they needed to be) thoroughly revised for the translation of the whole poem (2018). I used to think that translating all of Beowulf would be too hard a task for me but somehow, eventually, the work was completed. In the end I think I must feel rather like Alexander Pope who, having translated the Iliad, confessed that 'I can make nothing of Homer'.   

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 and someone 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. 
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, these 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.­­

Chris McCulley's poetry book covers ­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.

Serengeti cover image Serengeti Songs (2016) was - is - something of an oddity. I had never intended to write about the Serengeti or indeed other African game parks but of course when we were travelling I kept a notebook. When we returned, phrases or images from the notes kept nudging me and I found myself drafting poems whose theme, really, was evolution and the making of that part of the African landscape. In 2016 I wrote a short account of the making of the text ('Red-billed Oxpecker') and that was published on the Carcanet website. That piece is readable via the link.

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