by Chiara De Luca
Michael Schmidt doesn’t have only a life to speak of, he doesn’t have only a story to draw from to enrich his poetry, which is so loaded with experience and so wisely chiseled. Born in Mexico City and now living and working in Manchester, founder and editorial director of the well-known publishing house Carcanet Press and of the prestigious poetry magazine PN Review, biographer, literary critic, translator and poet, Schmidt is no doubt a versatile artist. Moreover, as the majority of the best and most open-minded poets, he doesn’t only concentrate on his own literary creation and its promotion, but also engages actively in exploring, studying, publishing and promoting other artists’ works. This is one of the reasons why Schmidt’s “stories” don’t just belong to him, and it’s not just his own life that the poet wants to speak of. In fact, The Stories of My Life is a choral work, in which the individual experience is deeply rooted in the historical and cultural background of all of us. Schmidt’s poetry originates from a confluence of different cultures and traditions and is permeated by an international breath, while constantly confronting literary and cultural tradition which nevertheless doesn’t form its superstructure, but, on the contrary, a solid foundation for the poet to build on, following a very personal plan, in which the inheritance of this tradition is internalized and reworked in a highly personal and original way.
What immediately strikes reading one of Schmidt’s poems, is the flawless equilibrium between form and content that characterizes the whole of his vast poetry production. The poet chooses every single word with immense care and arranges it as the score of a song which never breaks, but rather follows a constant rhythm revealing the tenseness of each single verse and tight sound texture interweaving with one another. However neither Schmidt’s great linguistic skill, nor his mastery of rhythm and form, nor his awareness of the polysemic potentiality of words and syntax ever aim to make a mere show of themselves, nor to simply surprise or impress the reader/listener. In fact, his poetry always sounds winding and involving, the poets’ attitude always appears friendly, while inviting the reader to follow his steps, or even to walk at his side while he retraces his own stories and the stories of the people he met, of the ones he lost, of the ones whom death has stolen away from him, but go on living in his memory, in his verses, in the air surrounding him. In fact, one of the main tasks Schmidt assigns to poetry is that of digging in the past, bringing memories to the surface of the present, where the poet converses with the beloved lost ones, who are alive and extraordinarily present in words which evoke and even embody them. This way, the poet can look at their evanescent faces, listen to their whispering voices and avoid their stories being broken. Schmidt’s poetry is also alighted by the inspiration of a faith which is never dogmatic, but rather offered with the naturalness of a gift, in an attempt of restoring dialogue with the Absolute while providing an isle of silence and slowness, where God is a discreet presence, a silent voice and a travel companion, rather than a far destination to aim to, or a distant interlocutor. In the same way, the beloved ones, though having already reached Him, go on living among us, accompaning us through the path of everyday life. The poet doesn’t want anyone of them to fade away and poetry helps him to stay in secret contact with them.
Originally published on Samgha
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