Born in Scotland near Glasgow, George Mann MacBeth lived the greater part of his life in England. This circumstance had a substantial impact on his poetry, leading him to view himself as something of an exile. Although he felt comfortable in England, he did not regard himself as English and remarked on the sensation of detachment, of living and working in a foreign country. The Scotland he left as a child remained in his mind as a lost world, a kind of Eden that could never be regained, and his sense of loss helped make him, in his own evaluation, “a very retrospective, backward-looking poet.” Perhaps more significantly, his detachment, or rootlessness, enabled him to embrace a larger part of the world than is available to most writers.
Another significant element of MacBeth’s life was his long-term association with the British Broadcasting Corporation, where he worked as a producer of poetry programs. This position bought him into contact with the leading poets in England and around the world and exposed him to everything that was happening in poetry. MacBeth himself acknowledged that his close work with a broad variety of poets over the years influenced his writing, particularly in the areas of technique and structure. Always careful not to become too involved in purely “English” writing, he consciously tried to keep in touch with poetic developments in the world at large, and his accomplishments as a poet can be measured most accurately if they are considered in the context of that endeavor.
By the late 1980’s, MacBeth had moved to Ireland, continuing to work there as a freelance broadcaster, a teacher, and a writer, and traveling frequently to give readings of his poetry abroad. His life was tragically cut short when, in 1992, he died of motor neuron disease, in Tuam, County Galway.