Michael O'Neill was born in Aldershot in 1953 and moved to Liverpool in 1960. He read English at Exeter College, Oxford. From 1979 he lectured in English at Durham University, where he became a Professor of English and subsequently an Assistant Director of the Centre for Poetry and Poetics. He co-founded and co-edited Poetry Durham from 1982 to 1994. His most significant critical publications are on the topic of Romantic literature, and particularly the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley. One of his most recent critical books was, as co-author (with Madeleine Callaghan), The Romantic Poetry Handbook.
He received an Eric Gregory Award in 1983 for his poetry and a Cholmondeley Award for Poets in 1990. His five collections of poems are The Stripped Bed (Collins Harvill, 1990), Wheel (Arc, 2008), Gangs of Shadow (Arc, 2014), Return of the Gift (Arc, 2018) and Crash & Burn (Arc, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies.
He died in December 2018, leaving a wife and two children.