Seidel was born to a family of Russian Jewish descent in St. Louis, Missouri in 1933. His family owned Seidel Coal and Coke who supplied coal to the brewing industry in St. Louis. Seidel graduated from St. Louis Country Day School and earned his A.B. at Harvard University in 1957. Archibald MacLeish arranged for Seidel to take a leave of absence from Harvard so he could travel around Europe. In Europe Seidel spent time in Paris (where he took a virtual vow of silence for three months) and visited Oxford and Cambridge in England, where he met T. S. Eliot in London.
Seidel corresponded with Ezra Pound in his youth and visited Pound at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Despite not understanding the Chinese language, Seidel suggested corrections to Pound's translations of Confucius, The Unwobbling Pivot, which Pound accepted. After university Seidel moved with his wife to West Gloucester, Massachusetts, and then to Paris after Seidel became the Parisian editor of the The Paris Review in 1961. He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City.
In 1962, his first book, Final Solutions, was chosen by a jury of Louise Bogan, Stanley Kunitz, and Robert Lowell for an award sponsored by the 92nd Street Y, with a $1,500 prize. However, both the association and the publisher rejected the manuscript for a variety of reasons; one being that, in their opinion, "matter in one of the poems libeled a noted living person"; and another being that the national head of the YMHA/YWHA expressed concern that some of the poems were "anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic", claims Seidel considered preposterous. When Seidel refused to make requested changes to his work, the prize was withdrawn and the promise of publication revoked. Bogan, Kunitz, and Lowell also resigned in protest.
This incident, in which Seidel's poetry offended readers, was a defining moment in his career, and one that he would repeat in subsequent books by consciously trying to offend—or at least, to shock—his readers (although none of his subsequent books caused anywhere near the same degree of controversy that his first book did). Random House published the book the following year, but seventeen years would pass before Seidel published another work. His second book, Sunrise, was the 1980 Lamont Poetry Selection. His book Going Fast was a finalist for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
His collection, The Cosmos Poems, was commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History to celebrate the opening of the new Hayden Planetarium in 2000, and he won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry in 2002. His collection Ooga-Booga was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was shortlisted for the 2007 International Griffin Poetry Prize. A limited run of his most recent collection of new verse, Evening Man was published in 2008. The following year saw the publication of the career-spanning anthology Poems:1959–2009.
In response to the publication of his Collected Poems, The New York Times Magazine's Wyatt Mason wrote a long piece on the poet, titled "Laureate of the Louche".  New York Times book reviewer David Orr, in his review of Poems: 1959-2009, wrote, "[Seidel is] one of poetry's few scary characters." Seidel is frequently characterized as such, in part because in his writing he often makes use of violent and disturbing sexual imagery and presents himself as a rather unlikeable aesthete who embraces his own "elite" brand of materialism (extolling, for instance, his love of Ducati motorcycles and handmade shoes). However, Seidel often ironizes this persona, pushing it to cartoonish extremes.
Seidel's poetry is not only about his outrageous poetic persona. He also writes poems that comment on contemporary events and are political/satirical (as is his poem "Bush's War"). His work is also notable in that he frequently makes use of rhyme and meter (both regular and irregular). One of Seidel's earliest influences was Robert Lowell. Seidel has stated, "The influence of Lowell [on my first book Final Solutions was] unmistakable."  However, the critic Richard Poirier noted that Seidel had broken free of this influence by the time he published his second book, Sunrise.
- Final Solutions (New York: Random House, 1963)
- Sunrise (New York: Viking Press, 1979)
- Men and Woman: New and Selected Poems (London: Chatto & Windus, 1984)
- Poems, 1959-1979 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)
- These Days (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)
- My Tokyo (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1993)
- Going Fast (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1998)
- The Cosmos Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2000)
- Life on Earth (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2001)
- Area Code 212 (New York, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2002)
- The Cosmos Trilogy (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2003)
- Ooga-Booga (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2006)
- Evening Man (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
- Collected Poems: 1959-2009 (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2009)
- Nice Weather, (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2012)
- "Frederick Seidel, The Art of Poetry No. 95". The Paris Review - Frederick Seidel, The Art of Poetry No. 95. The Paris Review. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
- Knox, Sanka (1962-07-16). "Poets' Jury Quits in Award Dispute". The New York Times. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
- Mason, Wyatt (April 8, 2009). "Frederick Seidel, Laureate of the Louche". The New York Times.
- "The Pulitzer Prizes - Poetry". Columbia University. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- See Mason Wyatt, Citation Above
- Orr, David (May 24, 2009). "The Edge of Night". The New York Times.
- Mason, Wyatt
- Mason, Wyatt
- Source: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2002. PEN (Permanent Entry Number): 0000089250.
- Jonathan Galassi (Fall 2009). "Frederick Seidel, The Art of Poetry No. 95". The Paris Review.
- Frederick Seidel Online
- Frederick Seidel on Poets.org
- Griffin Poetry Prize biography, including video clip of a reading from Barbados