Peter McDonald was born in Belfast in 1962, and was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and University College, Oxford. He has been writing poetry since his teens, and was himself a winner of national young poet competitions in 1978 and 1979. His first published poems were collected in the book Trio Poetry 3 (Blackstaff Press, 1982), and he was publishing poems in the national literary press while still an undergraduate. In 1983, he won Oxford’s Newdigate Prize for poetry, and from 1983-5 he was co-editor of the literary magazine Oxford Poetry. In 1986, he was selected as one of the six writers (including Jo Shapcott and Adam Thorpe) featured in New Chatto Poets (Chatto and Windus). His first full collection of poems, Biting the Wax, was published in 1989.
Peter McDonald has been a university teacher of English for many years. He was Fellow and Tutor in English at Pembroke College, Cambridge, from 1988-92, and was Lecturer (and subsequently Reader) in English at the University of Bristol from 1992-99. In 1999, he became the first holder of the Christopher Tower Studentship (i.e. fellowship) and Tutorship in Poetry in the English Language at Christ Church, Oxford, also holding a lectureship in the English Faculty of Oxford University.
Peter McDonald has published several books of criticism, including Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland (1997) and Serious Poetry: Form and Authority from Yeats to Hill (2002), and Sound Intentions: Rhyme and Repetition from Wordsworth to Hardy (2012). He has edited Louis MacNeice’s Selected Plays (1993) and his Collected Poems (2007), and has been working on a major three-volume edition of The Complete Poems of W.B. Yeats for the Longman Annotated English Poets series. More generally, Peter McDonald has been a prolific writer on modern and contemporary poetry, and his criticism appears regularly in The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, PN Review, Thumbscrew and Metre. Oxford University Press published Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Later Work, edited by Peter McDonald and John Lyon in 2012.
Peter McDonald’s second collection of poetry was Adam’s Dream (1996); Pastorals (2004); The House of Clay (2007), Torchlight (2011), and his sixth collection, Collected Poems (2012). The Homeric Hymns, a PBS recommended translation, has recently been published by Carcanet as has Herne the Hunter (see review).