New race for poetry post begins

first_imgSpeculation is mounting as to who will next fill the Oxford Professor of Poetry post in the wake of Ruth Padel’s resignation.The University has announced it will renew its search later this year. Padel resigned after only nine days in the position, following the revelation that she forwarded negative information about her opponent, the Noble Laureate Derek Walcott, to journalists.Walcott has stated that he will not stand again. Meanwhile runner-up Arvind Mehrotra has sought to distance himself from controversy, claiming he needed time to consider whether he would accept another nomination. Others, such as Australian ex-pat Clive James, have shown no reservation in vying for the Professorship. “It’s the only job I want,” James told the Guardian recently. The three hundred year old position of Oxford Professor of Poetry has historically been occupied by figures such as Matthew Arnold and WH Auden. While the names of more traditional choices such as Simon Armitage, JH Prynne, and Oxford don Jon Stallworthy have been mentioned, some see the scandal as an opportunity to expand the search beyond the customary candidate pool which has been largely white, male, and British.Various commentators, including novelist Jeanette Winterson and poet Jackie Kay, have expressed sadness that the tenure of the first woman to hold the position ended in disgrace. Women mentioned as suitable to take Padel’s place include Alice Oswald, who studied classics at New College, Oxford, and now works as a gardener in Devon. Oswald is noted for her lyrical, romantic nature poems.Others have suggested that a non-English poet fill the post. Seamus Heaney, who held the Oxford Professorship from 1989 to 1984, has proposed Hans Magnus Enzensberger, widely regarded as Germany’s most eminent living poet and cultural commentator. Winner of the Pasolini and Nuremberg Cultural Prize, Enzensberger has explored civil unrest and middle class existence in his work.Other potential foreign candidates include American Jorie Graham, who is the first woman to hold the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, a position previously held by Heaney. Graham has been heralded as one of the leading poets in America for her metaphysical introspections.The immensely popular Australian poet Les Murray has also been named as a possibility. Considered by many to be one of the world’s leading English-language poets, Murray’s work focuses on Australian identity. In his prolific output he has frequently championed the traditions and culture of indigenous Australians and rural life. While the Padel scandal has rekindled debates over aesthetics and morality, the search for a new candidate invites discussion about whether nationality and gender should play a role in the nomination process.Eloise Stonborough, secretary of the Oxford Poetry Society, applauds the idea of a diverse candidate pool. Ultimately, however, she feels candidates should be judged based on merit alone. “Inviting people as women or foreigners is missing the point.”last_img

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