Peter Robinson (poet)

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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 a novel called September in the Rain published in September 2016.

During the 1980s 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 founding the creative writing pathway and 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 poetry editor for Two Rivers Press and literary executor for the estates of the poets Roy Fisher (1930–2017) and Mairi MacInnes (1925–2017).

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 talks and readings in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York (USA), Hiroshima, Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo, Sendai and elsewhere in Japan, Sofia (Bulgaria), Kristiansand (Norway), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), Milan, Parma, and Massa Marittima (Italy), Paris (France), Heidelberg (Germany). Nikšić (Montenegro), Elche and Moguer (Spain), Dublin and Limerick (Eire), and all over the United Kingdom. He has also taken part in a number of 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). Reviewing The Returning Sky (a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for the Spring quarter) in the Autumn 2012 issue of Poetry Review (102/3), Todd Swift described its author as 'a major English poet.' His Collected Poems 1976-2016 appeared in February 2017 and was noticed in such reviews as those by Ian Pople in The Manchester Review and Will May in Journal of Poetics Research. Individual poems by Peter Robinson have been translated into Bulgarian, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Macedonian, Romanian, 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.'

More recently, Robinson has been able to make visible a greater range of his writings, publishing a selection of his aphorisms called Spirits of the Stair in 2009, Foreigners, Drunks and Babies: Eleven Stories in 2013, a collection of prose poetry and memoirs called The Draft Will (2015) and his first novel, September in the Rain in 2016. His fiction, especially, has been warmly received, with David Cooke writing in The London Magazine that the collection of short stories is 'an impressive body of work that deserves to gain a wider readership', while Paula Byrne wrote that 'September in the Rain is a novel of extraordinary beauty and courage', Jonathan Coe found in it 'a kind of redemption thanks to the tone or rueful, quizzical honesty', and Giles Foden saw it as 'a triumph of style, its sentences being assayed with a poet's feeling for the weight of each word.' In an early review, Ian Brinton described it on his Tears in the Fence blog for 29 August 2016 as 'a stunningly moving novel'. [1]


A small portion of Peter Robinson's literary manuscripts, typescripts, corrected proofs, autograph correspondence, signed editions, 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, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, and the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 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)


  • The Benefit Forms (Lobby Press: 1978)
  • Going Out to Vote (Many Press: 1978)
  • Overdrawn Account (Many Press: 1980) ISBN 0-9504916-9-1
  • Anaglypta (Many Press: 1985) ISBN 0-907326-11-0
  • This Other Life (Carcanet: 1988) Winner of the Cheltenham Prize ISBN 0-85635-737-5
  • More about the Weather (Robert Jones: 1989) ISBN 978-0-9514240-0-1 (hardback) ISBN 0-9514240-1-7 (paperback)
  • Entertaining Fates (Carcanet: 1992) ISBN 0-85635-975-0
  • Leaf-Viewing (Robert Jones: 1992) ISBN 0-9514240-2-5
  • Lost and Found (Carcanet: 1997) ISBN 1-85754-176-6
  • Via Sauro Variations (Ridgeback: 1999)
  • Anywhere You Like (Pine Wave: 2000)
  • About Time Too (Carcanet: 2001) ISBN 1-85754-510-9
  • Selected Poems 1976-2001 (Carcanet: 2003) ISBN 1-85754-625-3
  • Ghost Characters (Shoestring: 2006) ISBN 1-904886-25-6
  • There are Avenues (Brodie: 2006) ISBN 0-9542649-5-9
  • The Look of Goodbye: Poems 2001-2006 (Shearsman Books: 2008) ISBN 978-1-905700-45-5
  • Ekphrastic Marriage (Pine Wave Press: 2009) with artworks by Andrew McDonald
  • English Nettles and Other Poems (Two Rivers Press: 2010) illustrated by Sally Castle ISBN 978-1-901677-65-2 (hardback)
  • The Returning Sky (Shearsman Books: 2012) Poetry Book Society Recommendation ISBN 978-1-84861-186-3
  • Like the Living End (Worple Press: 2013) ISBN 978-1-905208-19-7
  • Buried Music (Shearsman Books: 2015) ISBN 978-1-84861-389-8
  • An Epithalamium (Pine Wave Press: 2016)
  • Collected Poems 1976-2016 (Shearsman Books: 2017) ISBN 978-1-84861-524-3
  • Ravishing Europa (Worple Press: 2019) ISBN 978-1-905208-43-2
  • Bonjour Mr Inshaw: Poems by Peter Robinson, Paintings by David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press: 2020) ISBN 978-1-909747-56-2

Poetry in Translation[edit]

  • After Chardin: Selected Poems translated by Takao Furukawa (Okayama: 2016)
  • L'attaccapanni e altre poesie translated by Peter Robinson and Ornella Trevisan (Moretti e Vitali: 2005)
  • Approach to Distance: Selected Poems from Japan translated with an introduction by Miki Iwata (Isobar Press: 2017) ISBN 978-4-907359-18-8





As Editor[edit]

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 7 January 2013.

External links[edit]