The Pasadena, California native received his Ph.D. from Stanford University. In 1970 he married his second wife, Phylinda Wallace, a translator, and has two children, Robert and Geoffrey.
McMichael is a professor of English and director of the Master of Fine Arts Poetry Writing Program at the University of California, Irvine.
"McMichael writes densely; his language is compacted, coiled, sprung (in Hopkins's sense) and highly allusive. It is never simple or straightforward," writes Liz Rozenberg in a Boston Globe review.
Eric McHenry, in a brief review of Capacity in The New York Times, wrote: "Since 1980, his [McMichael's] sole contributions to the genre (excluding a "new and selected") have been three book-length poems, each strikingly different from the others and from anything else on the market. In Capacity, he has exchanged the long lines and explicit autobiography of the previous two for dispassion, elision and lines as short as a syllable."