Peter Robinson (poet)

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For other people named Peter Robinson, see Peter Robinson (disambiguation).
Peter Robinson on the balcony of Luciano and Mimia Erba's flat in Milan (photo credit: Silvia Sereni)

Peter Robinson (born 18 February 1953, full name: Peter John Edgley Robinson) is a British poet born in Salford, Lancashire.

Life and career[edit]

With the exception of five years spent in Wigan, Peter Robinson grew up in Liverpool. He graduated from the University of York in 1974. In the 1970s he edited the poetry magazine Perfect Bound. He helped organize several international Cambridge Poetry Festivals between 1977 and 1985, and was festival coordinator in 1979. He was awarded a doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1981 for a thesis on the poetry of Donald Davie, Roy Fisher and Charles Tomlinson. Among the most decisive events for his creative life, a sexual assault in Italy on his girlfriend in 1975 — which he witnessed at gunpoint — formed the material for some of the poems in This Other Life (1988) and provided the plot outline for an as yet unpublished novel called September in the Rain.

In the following decade he was one of the organisers of the exhibition Pound's Artists: Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts in London, Paris and Italy at Kettle's Yard and the Tate Gallery, co-edited the magazine Numbers[1] and was advisor to the 1988 Poetry International at the South Bank Centre, London. After teaching for the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and at the University of Cambridge, he held various posts in Japan. His most extended employment, from 1991 to 2005, was teaching English Literature and English as a second language at Tohoku University in Sendai. He underwent a successful brain tumour operation in 1993 while his first marriage was failing. He remarried in 1995 to an educationalist and now has two daughters, Giulia and Matilde. In 2007 he returned to the UK to take up a post as Professor of English and American literature at the University of Reading. Since returning to Reading, as well as leading research at the university on poetry and poetics, he has organised a centenary conference on the work of the poet Bernard Spencer (1909–1963), instigated the publication of an annual creative arts anthology, and helped found the Reading Poetry Festival. He is now also literary editor for Two Rivers Press.

A regular contributor of book reviews and literary criticism to poetry magazines, academic journals, and newspapers, Peter Robinson has presented and discussed his work in many parts of the world, giving readings in Los Angeles and Chicago, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and elsewhere in Japan, Kristiansand (Norway), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), Milan, Parma, and Massa Marittima (Italy), Paris (France) and all over the United Kingdom. He has also taken part in programmes on BBC Radio Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Bristol, and Merseyside, as well as on BBC Radio Three.

Critical reception[edit]

Peter Robinson’s earliest published poetry was fortunate to receive numerous notices, including one in which the poet and novelist James Lasdun observed that ‘he is a poet, and one with a sensibility which, if attuned only to a somewhat limited range of experience, is unusually refined’ in Siting Fires 1 (1983). The best of these early reviews was Eric Griffiths’ in PN Review 35 (1983), which described Robinson as ‘in my judgement, the finest poet of his generation’. The publication of This Other Life (1988) brought his work to the attention of the national press for the first time with Martin Dodsworth in the Guardian (Friday 13 May 1988) describing the book as ‘grave and deliberated…beautiful and mysterious too’, Rachel Billington’s singling it out in the Financial Times (20 Feb 1988), and its being named a ‘Book of the Year’ in the Sunday Telegraph (4 Dec 1988). Stephen Romer described it as ‘love poetry of an exemplary kind’ in the Times Literary Supplement (19 Aug 1988) and John Kerrigan found in it ‘a miracle of balance’ in the London Review of Books (13 Oct 1988).

Highlights of the subsequent decade were provided by John Ashbery’s characterizing his poetry, along with that of other younger writers, as ‘curiously strong’ in PN Review (1993), while Peter Swaab, again in the TLS (4 Sept 1998) noted its ‘staying power’. James Keery published the first attempt to articulate this evolving oeuvre’s underlying themes in ‘Marred in a way you recognize’ in PN Review 126 (Mar-April 1999), and the first appreciation in a critical study came with Sumie Okada’s ‘A Sense of Being Misplaced’, Western Writers in Japan (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999). Robinson’s many years working in that country made it difficult for him to maintain a profile in the British poetry scene, but his work continued to receive attention, and the publication of his Selected Poems (2003) prompted a number of reviews including a welcome by Patrick McGuinness in the Poetry Review (Winter 2005), a review in The Japan Times (20 Oct 2003) by David Burleigh, and one in Romanian by Catalin Ghita.

His current critical standing was underlined by the publication in 2007 of The Salt Companion to Peter Robinson, a collection of fourteen essays with a bibliography (1976–2006), edited by Adam Piette and Katy Price. The volume includes a preface by Roy Fisher in which he observes: ‘Thus the life-events don’t provide the driving force of the poems; rather they make up the terrain, a varied surface across which the poet travels, living his life but always exercising a strong disposition to make poems from somewhere close to everyday events. It’s as if he carries a listening device, alert for the moments when the tectonic plates of mental experience slide quietly one beneath another to create paradoxes and complexities that call for poems to be made. These are not the ordinary urgencies of autobiography, but they are the urgencies of new creations’ (p. 22).

More recent responses to Robinson’s work are Ben Hickman’s in Jacket, and Tom Phillips’ in Eyewear, while Ian Brinton features his observations on the art in Contemporary Poetry: Poets and Poetry since 1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). His poetry has also been translated into German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

Alongside his poetry, Peter Robinson's ancillary activities have also received widespread critical attention. The translations of Vittorio Sereni, made in collaboration with Marcus Perryman, were described by Charles Tomlinson in The Independent (1990) as 'versions that possess an uncanny accuracy, true to the fragmented, self-communing, smouldering and combustible humanity of Sereni's work'. Choosing The Great Friend and Other Translated Poems (2002) as a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation, Douglas Dunn wrote that 'the range is eclectic without being scattered confusingly across too many languages and cultures. For me at least, much of this work is new' while Glyn Pursglove, reviewing the book in Acumen, found that Robinson's 'attempted fidelity is not allowed to distort his own use of English and English verse and there is a great deal to admire and enjoy here. Indeed, one could wish the book a good deal longer.' John Welle called the translations of Luciano Erba (2007) 'marvelously attuned ... accurate, carefully crafted, and in harmony with the idiom and spirit of the originals.' They were awarded the 2008 John Florio Prize.

Peter Robinson's literary criticism began to gain national attention when Donald Davie reviewed In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets (1992) in the London Review of Books noting that 'Robinson deserves every credit for forcing his way into the thickets.' Poetry, Poets, Readers: Making Things Happen (2002) was welcomed by Andrea Brady in Poetry Review when she remarked that 'The conviction, pleasures and gratitude of committed reading are evident in this affirmation of the poetic contract between readers and writers.'Angela Leighton summed up his critical contribution in her review for the Times Literary Supplement of Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations (2005) when she wrote that 'Robinson has been a generous promoter of contemporary poetry for decades, and this collection of essays bears witness to his dedication and energy. He writes with an unformulaic enthusiasm, moving easily from biographical, political and poetic context to the nitty-gritty of close reading, while also striking an easy, readable tone'. Five years later, in the same journal, Justin Quinn found that Poetry & Translation: The Art of the Impossible (2010) was 'Vigorously and wittily argued ... an excellent and provocative contribution to a complex debate.'


A small portion of Peter Robinson's literary manuscripts, typescripts, corrected proofs, autograph correspondence, and sound recordings are held by the British Library, the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds, the Centro Manoscritti at the University of Pavia, the University of Sheffield Library, Hull History Centre, Special Collections at the University of Reading, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries. For further details about some of the material held in British collections, see the Location Register of Twentieth-Century English Literary Manuscripts

Primary Bibliography[edit]

(organized under the following sub-headings)







Secondary Bibliography[edit]


  1. ^ Blair-Underwood, Alison (2012). "Open account - A memoir: the Cambridge Poetry Festival". Blackbox Manifold, Issue 9: Peter Robinson at Sixty. Blackbox Manifold. Retrieved January 7, 2013. 

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