Michael Schmidt

Carcanet is delighted that Sasha Dugdale is shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot. A distinctive critic and teacher, a brilliant translator, most of all she’s a poet who takes formal and thematic risks, understands the changing dynamics of the poem sequence, and explores histories through scholarly, open inventiveness.

What about her publisher? The thing I like least about Carcanet is its name. People don’t know how to pronounce it. If it didn’t have that fey ‘t’ at the end, it would be a strong, English-sounding word, car-CANE. The ‘t’ Frenchifies it, if you don’t know your Shakespeare or Herrick, and if you look it up, it turns out to be a jewelled gorget. Yuck.

I didn’t choose the name. Carcanet grew out of the eponymous student magazine I took over in 1967 as an undergraduate. The Press was intended to be a brief, decisive swansong: to publish pamphlets by a few poets whose work Carcanet had encouraged, and then stop. But at the time poetry publishing was hardly thriving. New presses emerged — Fulcrum and Anvil in particular — but old lists were cautious, some were closing. Poets important to us were in peril of losing, or had lost, publishers. There were poets from abroad, Anglophone and other, who ought to have been part of our diet. When Poetry Nation, then PN Review got going, we were caught up in a hopeless enthusiasm which persists.

Carcanet has been backward and forward looking at the same time. We never placed a premium on youth. Age and experience did not count against poets; and we had a weak spot for poet critics. Being British or belonging to a specific school did not matter. We were at odds with the then ‘establishment’. So we grew, and grew.

What is our editorial principle? We wait to be surprised. Submissions which make you read aloud are off to a good start. If they surprise by rightness, and by a relation to larger traditions, modernist or otherwise, they engage us. I want the list to be full of surprises for the reader, marked by formal and linguistic intelligence, and by invention which is not the same thing as novelty. Particularism would be our philosophy, if we had one. It entails a resistance to theories and ‘schools’. To say more would risk a limiting definition… A register of ‘milestones’ would omit books which mean a lot to us, even if they’ve not found wide readership.

Each reader can find a trail through the forests we have planted. For the new reader, an excellent place to start is with Sasha’s Deformations.


Michael Schmidt is the Managing Director and Publisher of Carcanet, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. https://www.carcanet.co.uk/index.shtml