Archive of Carcanet Press - Editorial Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 CPA1
  • Dates of Creation
      (bulk 1965-[ongoing])
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      136 li. m.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Scope and Content

The archive comprises records generated during the daily operation of Carcanet Press and the preparation and publication of PN Review (formerly Poetry Nation). Central to the archive are the Editorial Papers and the Administrative Papers. The former include 'book files' for almost every book published by the Press since its establishment, including work in every genre represented in the Press's list. The contents of these files include one or more of the following: the author's, editor's or translator's original manuscript; additional manuscript material by the same author which was not ultimately selected for inclusion in a published volume; the author's or editor's own set of corrected proofs; collated proofs, usually marked up by the copy-editor and representing the final stage of proofing; and related material such as correspondence with the author. In many cases, the entire pre-history of a published text is represented in these files, which reflect the authorial and editorial revisions which shaped the final published version of a work. Also included among the Editorial Papers are: 'magazine files' containing similar material for each issue of Poetry Nation and PN Review; and usually a small number of rejected manuscripts which were sent to Schmidt but were not selected for publication by the Press. The Administrative Papers consist entirely of correspondence files. Most of the authors, editors and translators published by Carcanet are represented in these files, which are therefore of enormous research value for those interested in any Carcanet writer. In many cases, the correspondence files document the process of writing, editing and publishing specific Carcanet books, and they often include original poetry manuscripts which were sent to Schmidt with covering letters; writers frequently discuss their own work with Schmidt in some detail, and respond to his opinions. Schmidt is himself a poet and novelist, and correspondents also offer comments on his own published works. However, the files are even more wide-ranging than this: Schmidt carries out most of his correspondence through the Carcanet office (his own personal archive, also held by the Library, is notably lacking in literary correspondence), and many of the figures represented in these files are personal friends as well as writers. This is therefore far more than 'business' correspondence; it is frequently informal and wide-ranging, covering innumerable topics and reflecting the wider literary and cultural climate of the time. Schmidt's network of contacts throughout the literary world means that the files include correspondence with numerous significant writers who have not necessarily published work with Carcanet or in PN Review.

The first two accessions of the archive (which date broadly from the period 1969 to mid-1980) comprise solely Editorial and Administrative Papers as detailed above. After this, the Library also began to receive operational papers relating to the Press as a business, including accounts, publicity and marketing material, and letters from suppliers, printers, designers, binders and accountants.

The range of poets and other authors represented in the archive is vast, and the following represents only a small selection: John Ashbery; Sujata Bhatt; Robert Bly; Eavan Boland; Alison Brackenbury; Christine Brooke-Rose; Gillian Clarke; Donald Davie; Elaine Feinstein; Thom Gunn; Sophie Hannah; Tony Harrison; Robert Hass; Seamus Heaney; John Heath-Stubbs; Geoffrey Hill; Ted Hughes; Elizabeth Jennings; Frank Kuppner; Philip Larkin; Sorley MacLean; Christopher Middleton; Edwin Morgan; Sinead Morrissey; Andrew Motion; Les Murray; Octavio Paz; Neil Powell; I.A. Richards; Laura Riding; Vikram Seth; C.H. Sisson; Anne Stevenson; R.S. Thomas; and Jeffrey Wainwright.

The research strengths of the Carcanet Press Archive are all-encompassing, and those whose research lies in any of the following areas (and many more) will find ample material of interest among the Carcanet papers: individual Carcanet and PN Review writers, including significant poets of national and international importance, flourishing during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; twentieth and twenty-first century prosody (writers from varied traditions are represented, ranging from the formal to the experimental); poetries in English from the British Isles, Ireland, the Caribbean, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Americas; women's poetry; English translations of work by significant twentieth- and twenty-first century poets and novelists writing in European and other languages; the criticism, editing and reviewing of poetries in English and in translation; textual criticism and theory (many literary works are represented in the archive through each stage of their textual history); those poets of the past who have featured in Fyfield editions (reflecting the continual reassessment of the English literary canon, and the approach of recent and contemporary editors towards editing the text of earlier writers); fiction in English, particularly the more experimental tradition of the English novel; the history of publishing, in particular the editing, printing, designing and marketing of texts by twentieth and twenty-first century literary magazines and printing houses (the editors of numerous small presses as well as other literary magazines have corresponded with Michael Schmidt on publishing issues over the years); and art and visual culture (artists such as Adrian Stokes and Charles Tomlinson feature in the Carcanet list, and there is material relating to the letter artist Stephen Raw who designs many Carcanet book jackets).

Administrative / Biographical History

1. Mark Fisher (ed.), Letters to an editor (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1989), p. 3.

2. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 6.

3. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 4.

4. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 168.

5. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 169.

6. Fisher, Letters to an editor, pp. 4-5.

7. Michael Schmidt, Introduction to PN Review tenth year index (Manchester: Poetry Nation Review, 1982), p. 4.

8. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 54.

9. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 54.

Carcanet Press was founded at Pin Farm, South Hinksey, Oxford, by Michael Schmidt and Peter Jones, supported in their enterprise by Grevel Lindop and Gareth Reeves. The Press had its origins in the undergraduate poetry magazine Carcanet, which was edited by Schmidt when he was a student at Wadham College, and was designed to establish literary links between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (a 'carcanet' being a linked, jewelled necklace). In Schmidt's view, 'the original motive behind the press was a sense of grievance - that good new poetry was being wilfully ignored by the major publishers'.1 In the autumn issue of 1969, Carcanet announced a new series of seven poetry booklets, costing 4s. 6 d. each. Among the earliest of these pamphlet publications were collections by Peter Jones, Grevel Lindop, Gareth Reeves and Indian poet Ishan Kapur. The first series saw subscribers and patrons exceeding 300, and proved successful enough both for further series to be issued and for a subsequent expansion into book format.

By 1972, however, the Press was suffering severe financial difficulties. Assistance came from Professor C.B. Cox of Manchester University, who persuaded the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to award the University of Manchester a grant to bring Michael Schmidt to Manchester as Special Lecturer in Poetry in the English Department. Schmidt brought Carcanet Press with him, and for the first fifteen years of its life, the Press essentially remained a joint venture between Schmidt and Jones; for three years following its move north it operated from the spare bedroom of a semi-detached house in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire. During this time the Carcanet list expanded, already demonstrating some of the hallmarks which came to characterize the Press: a commitment to publishing work by new authors; the publication of poetry in translation (Daniel Weissbort became instrumental in establishing the editorial direction of Carcanet's translated poetry list, the earliest publications including work by Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Nazim Hikmet and Fernando Pessoa); and the publication of work by twentieth-century writers who Schmidt felt had been unjustly neglected or excluded from the mainstream (Elizabeth Daryush, for example, had a pamphlet published by Carcanet in 1971, leading to a revival of interest in her work). In 1972 the Fyfield Books series was also established; this aimed to provide readers with affordable editions of work by previously undervalued poets of the past, from the medieval period onwards; it was inaugurated with selections of Thomas Chatterton, Richard Crashaw, George Peele and Christopher Smart.

In 1975 the Press moved to Manchester's Corn Exchange; an IBM 'electronic composer' was purchased and Schmidt and Jones were responsible for setting many Carcanet books during the period 1975-1982. The Press continued to grow through the 1970s, publishing work by a number of well-known and established poets, many of whom became mainstays of the Carcanet list, including Elizabeth Jennings, Donald Davie, Christopher Middleton, Michael Hamburger and Edwin Morgan. When C.H. Sisson initially submitted a new collection to the Press, Schmidt almost rejected it; on reconsideration, he found that Sisson's work acted on him as 'a slow imaginative earthquake'; it led to an adjustment in his poetic taste and 'an increased openness to varieties of modernism',2 which prompted him to take on work by writers such as John Ashbery and John Ash. Schmidt came to have a huge admiration for Sisson's work, and the two writers corresponded on an almost daily basis; Carcanet also became Sisson's principal publisher. As well as collections and selections of work by individual poets, the Press also issued themed anthologies of poetry and literary criticism, as well as collections of essays.

By the end of the decade, Carcanet had established itself as one of the major poetry publishing houses outside London. Its provincial location was always an essential part of its character: '[i]t could be characterized as provincial without being parochial, cosmopolitan but not metropolitan'.3 Despite its non-metropolitan location, it had by this time developed an international reputation. The Press was, however, chronically underfunded; while he wished to continue its expansion, Schmidt anticipated problems from the poetry publishing boom of the early 1980s, fearing that Carcanet would be unable to maintain is role as a leading publisher of new poets. In 1982 Matthew Evans, Chairman of Faber, suggested that Schmidt contact Robert Gavron. Gavron admired the Press's list and decided to buy it, a change which inaugurated a new more businesslike approach to the Press's operation. More editorial staff were taken on, and in 1984 an office was opened in New York. Although this American branch was forced to close in 1988, it played a significant role in giving Carcanet authors exposure in the American media. There was also a shift in policy in the 1980s: the focus of the list turned back to primary literature and moved away from literary criticism; there was also a new focus on fiction as well as poetry. German and Italian fiction in translation initiated this trend, but with the appointment of Mike Freeman as fiction editor in 1983 the Press began to publish books by writers working in the experimental tradition of the English novel, like Christine Brooke-Rose. This diversification and development characterizes the history of Carcanet; other series established by the Press during the 1980s and 1990s included lives and letters, aspects of Portugal and film books. Its core poetry list also remained 'catholic, not only in its response to experimental writing...but also in political terms';4 the press retained its commitment to publishing work by new and contemporary poets, and 'the neglected poets of this and earlier centuries'.5

Carcanet Press was forced to move from the Corn Exchange in June 1996, when the building was severely damaged by a terrorist bomb. It found a new home in Blackfriars Street, Salford, before moving back to Manchester and taking up residence in Cross Street in 2002. Now in its fourth decade, the Press is one of the UK's leading literary publishers and has consolidated its international reputation. It continues to maintain a comprehensive and diverse list of modern and classic poetry in English and in translation; it also took over the poetry list of Oxford University Press in 1998. Fiction, lives and letters, and literary criticism also still play an important part in the Press's publishing schedule. Carcanet maintains its commitment to publishing and promoting the entire oeuvre of particular writers considered significant by Michael Schmidt (notable examples being the extensive publishing programmes of work by Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert Graves and Ford Madox Ford). The Fyfield series also flourishes, bringing the work of earlier poets to a new generation. In addition, the Press continues to publish work by Carcanet stalwarts, like Edwin Morgan, who have maintained their loyalty to the Press over considerable periods of time. Its poetry list encompasses both a range of traditions and a range of countries throughout the English-speaking world. Particular strengths include poetry from the whole of the UK, Ireland and the United States, but poets writing in English from every continent - including the Caribbean, Africa and Asia - are represented. Poetry and fiction in translation also retains an important presence, with Portuguese, Italian and Russian literature being a particular strength.

Closely related to, but independent from, Carcanet Press is its sister magazine PN Review, which was founded in 1973 as a hardback biannual journal called Poetry Nation. Initially edited by Schmidt and C.B. Cox, it aimed to provide a space for the work of new poets to be seen and subjected to criticism and assessment; Schmidt saw it as 'a provincial podium for non-provincial poets'.6 In 1976 it was replaced by a new magazine, PN Review, which was wider in scope than its predecessor, focusing not just on contemporary literature but also taking in history, religion and politics, in an attempt to reflect the wider society in which literature is created. It contained a mixture of new poetry in English and translation, essays, review articles, interviews and book reviews. Schmidt has cited the examples set by Edgell Rickword's Calendar of Modern Letters, Octavio Paz's Plural and later Vuelta, and David Wright's X as important influences in shaping the magazine in its new form.7 C.B. Cox left the magazine after the second issue, and for the rest of the decade the editorial board comprised Schmidt (as General Editor), Donald Davie and C.H. Sisson. The nature of the magazine was oppositional, 'standing against what the editors perceived as the left's hegemony of intellectual ideas',8 and it also set itself up as an alternative to the London literary establishment, as embodied in Ian Hamilton's The New Review; however, it also allowed voice to figures from the English left 'whose absence from the consciousness of the soi-disant radicals impoverished their grasp.'9 Schmidt subsequently aimed to lighten the magazine with the introduction of News and Notes and Reports sections. While the politics of the magazine were much discussed and debated, poetry always remained central; Schmidt used the magazine as a testing ground for new talent, and many writers who first had their work published in PN Review went on to publish collections with Carcanet Press. The magazine, however, always remained independent of the Press, and Carcanet books did not necessarily receive good reviews in its pages. In addition to new writing, there was a continued commitment to publishing literature in translation, re-assessments of various important but neglected writers, and work by well-established poets.

PN Review continued as a quarterly until 1979, when publication became bi-monthly. Davie and Sisson remained on the board until 1984, and since then various co-ordinating and contributing editors have worked on the magazine, although Michael Schmidt retains his role as General Editor. The magazine continues to appear six times a year, and includes an editorial, letters, news, articles, interviews, features, poems, translations, and a substantial book review section. It is now regarded as one of the leading contemporary literary journals, following in the tradition of the Calendar of Modern Letters, Criterion, and Scrutiny. Some special numbers devoted to specific issues have appeared, inaugurated by the highly successful Crisis for Cranmer and King James issue of 1979, which voiced concern over the sidelining of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The magazine also has a tradition of publishing special supplements devoted to specific writers; figures honoured in this way over the years have been as diverse as I.A. Richards, Thom Gunn, Edgell Rickword and John Ashbery.


The archive has been arranged into four subgroups which reflect Carcanet Press's own in-house arrangement of its records. The editorial papers are largely organized into book or magazine files, with all the editorial papers relating to a specific work or issue ultimately coming to rest in a discrete file. The administrative papers are maintained separately by Michael Schmidt and (in later years) Carcanet's office manager; these are housed in an alphabetical correspondence filing system. Financial papers are generated by Carcanet's in-house accountant, and the publicity material is also generated and kept independently by the relevant member of staff; these record types therefore constitute two further subgroups. Within each subgroup, material is divided into series based the accession in which it came: the archive is extensive and continues to accrue; material comes to the Library in regular accessions (usually on an annual basis); these accessions therefore provide a regular 'snapshot' of the Carcanet office at a particular moment in time, and a convenient means of arranging the archive. The four subgroups are as follows:

  • CPA/1 Editorial Papers
  • CPA/2 Administrative Papers
  • CPA/3 Financial Papers
  • CPA/4 Papers relating to Publicity, Marketing and Sales

Access Information

The archive is open to any accredited reader, although some material is closed under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998; closed records are identified at item level in the catalogue. Please consult archivist for further details.

This finding aid contains personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) holds the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately.

Acquisition Information

The John Rylands University Library purchases the archive from Carcanet Press on an ongoing basis. The first accession came in 1978, and accessions of new material now come to the Library on an annual basis.


1. Mark Fisher (ed.), Letters to an editor (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1989), p. 3.

2. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 6.

3. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 4.

4. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 168.

5. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 169.

6. Fisher, Letters to an editor, pp. 4-5.

7. Michael Schmidt, Introduction to PN Review tenth year index (Manchester: Poetry Nation Review, 1982), p. 4.

8. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 54.

9. Fisher, Letters to an editor, p. 54.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished accession and interim lists exist for the archive as a whole. Only the first two accessions are currently catalogued in detail, and in these catalogues the 'Former Reference' field is used to record the temporary box numbers allocated during interim listing.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

All items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Appraisal Information

There is a policy of destroying unmarked proof copies of Carcanet books, although these are retained if an unmarked set is the only document which represents the proofing stage for a particular volume. The archive is not otherwise subject to appraisal.

Custodial History

These papers essentially constitute the business archive of Carcanet Press, and PN Review (formerly Poetry Nation). The archive has been generated during day-to-day business, and is retained at the Carcanet offices until being transferred to the custody of The John Rylands University Library; while book files and other papers come to the Library as soon as they are no longer needed for day-to-day operations, correspondence files are retained at the Carcanet office for two years. Most of the papers in the archive were generated centrally at Carcanet's office, but some of the material has come from individual copy-editors, who often worked at a distance. The New York Branch of Carcanet also generated an archive, which has also come to the Library.


This is a growing archive and accruals continue to be taken in on an annual basis.

Related Material

The University of Manchester Library also holds the Papers of Michael Schmidt, which relate to Schmidt's own literary work, and also include appointment diaries covering the whole period of Carcanet's existence, as well as notebooks relating to modern and contemporary poetry. The Papers of Stephen Raw are also held at the Library; Raw has been Carcanet's book jacket designer since 1985, and his papers consist exclusively of material relating to his Carcanet work. In addition, the Library holds the papers of a number of Carcanet authors, namely: David Arkell; Brian Cox (and the related archive of the Manchester-based literary journal, Critical Quarterly which Cox co-founded); Dawson Jackson; Grevel Lindop; C.B. McCully; and Giovanni Pontiero. All of these archives are managed as part of the Modern Literary Archives Programme. The Library also holds the Carcanet Press Book Collection, which complements the archive by including most of the books which have been published by Carcanet since its earliest days; it should, however, be noted that coverage of the Press's poetry output in the book collection is more comprehensive than critical works which have appeared under the Press's imprint.


Much of the information about Carcanet Press's history is contained in the archive itself. However, the following publications have proved useful in compiling this catalogue.

Mark Fisher (ed.), Letters to an editor (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1989).

Stella K. Halkyard and C.B. McCully, ' "Thoughts of inventive brains and the rich effusions of deep hearts": some of the twentieth-century literary archives of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77, no. 2 (summer 1995), pp. 105-121.

PN Review tenth year index, with an introduction by Michael Schmidt (Manchester: Poetry Nation Review, 1982).

Geographical Names