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This interview is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

in conversation with James Michie Hamish Ironside

Since his poems first appeared in Penguin New Writing in 1950, James Michie has published much less of his own poetry than of his translations. Indeed the acclaim for his translations (from writers such as Catullus, Horace, Martial, La Fontaine and Euripides) may to some degree account for his own poems not being so well known; one can think of other similarly fine translators whose original poems seem much under-rated, perhaps due to the urge to pigeon-hole writers.

My own discovery of Michie's poetry came a few years ago. Knowing his name through having enjoyed some of his translations, I picked up his
Collected Poems at a second-hand bookshop. I was surprised to find myself enjoying his original poems even more than his Catullus; indeed, the book has probably given me more pleasure than all but two or three other volumes of poetry in my life. His poems are as stylistically simple as those of Betjeman or Larkin, and no less skilfully composed. A particularly delightful part of the book is the section of 'Epigrams and Oddities', collecting such things as a fine Burns parody, a double dactyl, and 'Under a Hot Lapis Lazuli Sky', in which Michie manages to include 59 anagrams of the word 'hospital'. Contrary to expectations, this poem becomes more pleasing rather than palling with each successive reading.

After some months fruitlessly trying to track down Michie, I eventually discovered, quite by chance, that he is alive and well and ...


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