James McMichael


McMICHAEL, James (1939– ), was born in Pasadena, a poet of southern California, a region better represented in American politics—Nixon and Reagan—than in American poetry. McMichael is unusually sensitive to place: what Paterson, New Jersey, was to William Carlos Williams, Pasadena is to him. His father’s profession—he was a real-estate developer—increased that sensitivity. McMichael has written three books of poems, as well as a study of James Joyce, Ulysses and Justice (Princeton, NJ, 1991), but his claim on readers’ attention rests primarily on his long poem Four Good Things (Boston, 1980), a sprawling autobiographical meditation on life, death, and real-estate, set in—of course—southern California. McMichael’s poetic line and rhythm verge on prose; the weakly enjambed verse paragraphs allow an essayistic voice to emerge, following its own connections and associations. The poem opens with the poet’s mother dying of cancer, his father pushing the development of Pasadena—two kinds of modern blight, cell division out of control. It is loose and capacious enough to hold a capsule history of Pasadena, its architectural growth amid the surrounding desert serving as a figure for the growth of the poet’s mind and of the poem. McMichael’s earlier books are Against the Falling Evil (Chicago, 1971) and The Lover’s Familiar (Boston, 1978); a discerning essay on his work is included in Robert Hass’s Twentieth Century Pleasures (New York, 1984).

from The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford UP. Copyright © Oxford UP.

McMichael’s most recent collection, Capacity (2006), continues his exploration of place and society but is set in remoter regions: Britain during the World War II Blitz, and Ireland during the potato famine. In 1970 he married his second wife, Phylinda Wallace, a translator, and has two children, Robert and Geoffrey. He is currently the director of the Master of Fine Arts Poetry Writing Program at the University of California, Irvine.

(Poetry Foundation, 2006)

Against the Falling Evil. Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 1971.
The Lover's Familiar. Boston: David R. Godine, 1977.
Four Good Things. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
Each in a Place Apart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ,1994.
The World at Large: New and Selected Poems 1971–1996. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Capacity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

The Style of the Short Poem. New York: Wadsworth, 1967.
Ulysses and Justice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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