Oxford Professor of Poetry

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The Professor of Poetry is a unique academic appointment at the University of Oxford. The chair was created in 1708 by an endowment from the estate of Henry Birkhead.[1] The professorship carries an obligation to lecture, but is in effect a part-time position. requiring only three lectures each year. In addition, every second year (alternating with the University Orator), the Professor delivers the Creweian Oration, which offers formal thanks to benefactors of the University. Until 1968 this oration was delivered in Latin.

Currently, the professor is appointed to one five-year term. After individuals are nominated, an election is held in which the members of the university's Convocation are eligible to participate. Convocation consists of members of the faculty (Congregation) both current and retired, and former student members of the University who have been admitted to a degree (other than an honorary degree). In 2010, on-line voting was allowed for the first time.[2] As of 2009, it carried a stipend of £6,901[3] (£4,695 as of 2005) plus £40 in travel expenses for each Creweian Oration.

Since 1708, 45 persons have been elected to the position including many prominent poets and academics. Although one, the only woman elected to the post, Ruth Padel, resigned prior to filling the post. The current Professor of Poetry is Geoffrey Hill, who was elected in June 2010.

Recent elections[edit]

The elections typically attract media attention and involve campaigning by proponents of quite diverse candidates. Previously both practising poets and academic critics have been chosen. In May 2009, amidst a media controversy during which Derek Walcott withdrew over allegations of his previous sexual harassment of university students, Ruth Padel was the first woman elected to the position since its inception. She resigned after nine days, when the media called for her to resign alleging that she had been involved in media dissemination of these allegations.

2009 Election[edit]

On 16 May 2009, Ruth Padel defeated the Indian poet Arvind Mehrotra to become the first woman elected to the post since its inception in 1708.[4] The Nobel Prize-Winning candidate Derek Walcott had withdrawn his candidacy,[5] after The Sunday Times and Cherwell revealed that various Oxford academics had been sent, anonymously, photocopied pages from The Lecherous Professor, a University of Illinois publication on the prevalence of sexual harassment in American universities, describing two such cases laid against Walcott at Harvard University and Boston University.[4][5][6][6] Walcott's candidacy had been controversial within the University from the beginning, some counselling against on grounds of Walcott's university past, others arguing that his record was immaterial since he would have no contact with students. Newspapers had previously claimed Walcott was the favourite,[4] but The Times pointed out that this was a lazy understanding of a system which does not in fact admit of favourites, since the number of supporters listed in the University Gazette gives no clue to the final outcome.[7] Padel criticised the anonymous missives and denied any knowledge of them, though many in the media continued to insinuate her involvement.[6] After her election, in a media storm which both demonstrated the vulnerability of this electoral system to media opinion and allowed the media simultaneously to pursue allegations in Walcott's university past and criticise Padel for having mentioned these allegations as a source of university voters' disquiet, two journalists who before the election had requested information from Padel regarding voters' opinions, revealed that she had cited to them the source of some people's unease about the suitability for appointment of someone with such a university record.[8][9] It was clear these emails had not led to Walcott's withdrawal, since the journalists concerned had not acted on them. Padel stated, 'I wish he had not pulled out.'[10] and resigned on 25 May.[11] The Observer newspaper attributed the campaign against Padel to "toxicity of the metropolitan media"[12] and letters to British newspapers criticised media handling of the election. A letter to the Times Literary Supplement,[13] complained of unfair media pursuit of Walcott's past, a letter in The Guardian complained of unjust denigration of Padel, claiming she was "justly held in high regard" for her poetry and teaching,[14][15] and a letter to The Times claimed that "Oxford has missed out for the worst of reasons. 'One can only speculate why so many male voices were loud in condemning Padel but silent with respect to Walcott. I attended a course taught by Ruth Padel: she was inspirational, involved, enthusiastic and interested in her students. Perhaps it was unwise of her to email journalists but if Walcott's past is "irrelevant to his suitability to fill the post of Professor of Poetry", so is Padel's "unwisdom". That Walcott removed the decision from the electorate was his own choice. Padel should not have been made to pay for his decision to confront neither his accusers nor his past."[16] American commentators attributed this series of events to a gender war at Oxford,[17][18] perceiving a "split across the Atlantic - with the Americans, the ones after all working with Walcott over the decades, taking those claims much more seriously" and finding the spectacle of academics 'negating a substantial anecdotal reputation' depressing."[19][20] Wider poetry opinion in Britain supported Padel, attributing the smear campaign in the media to misogyny[7] and networking. "The old boys have closed in on her", the poet Jackie Kay stated.[21][22] On Newsnight Review the poet Simon Armitage and poetry writer Josephine Hart expressed regret about Padel's resignation. "Ruth's a good person", Armitage said. "She dipped a toe in the media whirlpool and it dragged her down. I don't think she should have resigned, she would have been good." The election was for a post beginning the first day of Michaelmas Term 2009 hence Padel did not take up office.[23] In the 2010 election she supported Geoffrey Hill.[24]

2010 Election[edit]

On 7 May 2010, the University, having changed its system of voting to embrace online voters, confirmed that Paula Claire, Geoffrey Hill, Michael Horovitz, Steve Larkin, Chris Mann and seven others had been nominated as candidates for the position.[25][dead link]

Paula Claire, the only woman standing, announced her withdrawal on 7 June 2010, citing concerns about the fairness of the election which were dismissed by the university authorities.[26]

On 18 June, Geoffrey Hill was declared elected.[27][28] He received 1,156 votes; the next highest number, 353, went to Michael Horovitz.[29][30]

Persons elected to the position (1708–present)[edit]

# Portrait[31] Professor of Poetry Took office Left office Career Notes
1 Joseph Trapp unknown artist Bodleian Library.jpg Joseph Trapp
(1679–1747)
1708 1718
  • English High Church Anglican clergyman, academic, poet (occasional verse), dramatist, and pamphleteer, described as "fond of reciting the works of Shakespeare in Latin"
[32]
2 Thomas Warton the Elder
(c. 1688–1745)
1718 1726 [33]
3 Joseph Spence.jpg Joseph Spence
(1699–1768)
1728 1738
4 John Whitfield 1738 1741
5 RobertLowthBishop.jpg Robert Lowth
(1710–1787)
1741 1751
  • author of an influential textbook on English grammar, poet, and Anglican clergyman; appointed Bishop of Oxford and Bishop of London, dean of the chapel royal and privy councillor; declined to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1783 due to failing health
6 William Hawkins
(1722–1801)
1751 1756
  • English clergyman, author of sermons, poet and dramatist
7 Thomaswarton.jpg Thomas Warton the Younger
(1728–1790)
1757 1766 [33]
8 Benjamin Wheeler 1766 1776
9 John Randolph Bishop of London 1811 by William Owen.jpg John Randolph
(1749–1813)
1776 1783
10 Robert Holmes
(1748–1805)
1783 1793
  • English clergyman, Dean of Winchester, and biblical scholar known for textual studies of the Septuagint
11 James Hurdis 1763-1801 frontispiece from The Village Curate.jpg James Hurdis
(1763–1801)
1793 1801
12 Edward Copleston (1776–1849) Bishop of Llandaff.jpg Edward Copleston
(1776–1849)
1802 1812
13 John Josias Conybeare
(1779–1824)
1812 1821
  • English clergyman, geologist; appointed Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1808–1812), known for translations of Beowulf in English and Latin verse (1814), posthumously published Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1826)
14 Henry Hart Milman by George Frederic Watts.jpg Henry Hart Milman
(1791–1868)
1821 1831
  • English historian, dramatist, and clergyman, fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford recipient of the Newdigate Prize (1812), English essay prize for Comparative Estimate of Sculpture and Painting (1816); appointed Dean of St Paul's; authored lyrics for Palm Sunday hymn Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
15 John Keble from the magazine "Leisure Hour".jpg John Keble
(1792–1866)
1831 1841
16 James Garbett
(1802–1879)
1842 1852
  • British academic and evangelical Anglican clergyman, later Archdeacon of Chichester (1851–1879); Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford; an opponent to the Oxford Movement reforms, Garbett did not have sufficient credentials in poetry and was appointed due to his anti-Tractarian stance through the efforts of Brasenose principal, Ashurst Turner Gilbert
[34]
17 Thomas Legh Claughton.jpg Thomas Legh Claughton
(1808–1892)
1852 1857
18 Matthew Arnold.jpg Matthew Arnold
(1822–1888)
1857 1867
  • British poet, school inspector, educator and cultural critic; recipient of Newdigate Prize (1843) for poem Cromwell; headmaster of Rugby School and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford; godson of John Keble
19 Sir Francis Hastings Doyle engraving circa 1880.jpg Francis Hastings Doyle
(1810–1888)
1867 1877
  • British poet, attorney, and civil servant
20 John Campbell Shairp 1819-1885 by Robert Inerarity Herdman 1886.jpg John Campbell Shairp
(1819–1885)
1877 1885
21 Francis Turner Palgrave.jpg Francis Turner Palgrave
(1824–1897)
1885 1895
  • British critic and poet.
22 William Courthope
(1824–1917)
1895 1901
  • English writer and historian of poetry; recipient of the Newdigate Prize (1864) and Chancellors English essay prize (1868)
23 Andrew Cecil Bradley1891.jpg A. C. Bradley
(1851–1935)
1901 1906
  • English literary scholar, fellow at Balliol College, Oxford, professor at University of Liverpool and University of Glasgow, known for his Shakespearean scholarship, especially Shakespearean Tragedy (1904)
24 John William Mackail c1882.jpg John William Mackail
(1859–1945)
1906 1911
  • Scottish literary scholar, biographer, historian poet, known for scholarship and translations of Virgil; civil servant with Ministry of Education (1884–1919); President of the British Academy (1932–1936)
25 Sir Thomas Herbert Warren by Richmond.jpg Thomas Herbert Warren
(1853–1930)
1911 1916
  • English academic and college administrator; fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, President of Magdalen College, Oxford (1885–1928), Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (1906–1910)
Vacant 1916 1920
26 William Paton Ker by Johnstone Forbes-Robertson Univ Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery.jpg William Paton Ker
(1855–1923)
1920 1923
27 Heathcote William Garrod
(1878-1960)
1923 1928
28 Ernest de Sélincourt
(1870–1943)
1928 1933
29 George Stuart Gordon
(1881–1942)
1933 1938
  • British literary scholar, English literature professor at University of Leeds, and Oxford, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Vice-Chancellor
30 Adam Fox
(1883–1977)
1938 1943
Vacant 1944 1946
31 Maurice Bowra
(1898–1971)
1946 1951
  • English classical scholar and academic, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford (1938–1970), Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford (1951–1954)
32 Cecil Day-Lewis
(1904–1972)
1951 1956
  • Anglo-Irish poet and mystery writer, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1968–1972)
33 AudenVanVechten1939.jpg W. H. Auden
(1907–1973)
1956 1961
  • prolific Anglo-American poet and essayist, regarded by many critics as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century
34 Robert Graves.jpg Robert Graves
(1895–1985)
1961 1966
  • English poet, novelist, classical scholar and translator; author of over 140 works
35 Edmundblundencirca1914.jpg Edmund Blunden
(1896–1974)
1966 1968
  • English poet, author and critic
36 Roy Fuller
(1912–1991)
1968 1973
  • English poet and novelist
37 John Wain
(1925–1994)
1973 1978
38 John Jones
(born 1924)
1978 1983
  • Fellow at Merton College, Oxford, later emeritus; written books on diverse literary topics including Greek tragedy, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Keats, and one novel
39 Peter Levi
(1931–2000)
1984 1989
  • English-born poet, archaeologist, Jesuit priest, travel writer, biographer, academic and prolific reviewer and critic
40 Seamus Heaney Photograph Edit.jpg Seamus Heaney
(1939–2013)
1989 1994 [35][36]
41 James Fenton
(born 1949)
1994 1999
  • English poet, journalist and literary critic, recipient of Newdigate Prize for sonnet sequence Our Western Furniture
[37]
42 Paul Muldoon
(born 1951)
1999 2004
43 Christopher Ricks
(born 1933)
2004 2009
  • British literary critic and scholar, professor at Boston University, co-director of the university's Editorial Institute
Ruth in Etz Hayyim B.jpg Ruth Padel
(born 1946)
44 - Geoffrey Hill
(born 1932)
2010 2015
  • English poet, English literature and religion professor at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Boston University, co-founder of BU's Editorial Institute

References[edit]

  1. ^  "Birkhead, Henry". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ Mcgrath, Charles (2009-12-09). "Oxford Institutes a New Election Process for Its Poetry Post". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Oxford launches search for next Professor of Poetry". Oxford University. 2009-01-22. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  4. ^ a b c "Padel becomes Oxford Professor of Poetry". The Irish Times. 2009-05-16. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  5. ^ a b "Bittersweet victory for Ruth Padel". The Independent (London). 2009-05-17. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  6. ^ a b c Harrison, David (2009-05-16). "Ruth Padel's win 'poisoned' by smear campaign". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  7. ^ a b Purves, Libby (2009-05-18). "A familiar reek of misogyny and mistrust". The Times (London). 
  8. ^ Woods, Richard (2009-05-24). "Call for Oxford poet to resign after sex row". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  9. ^ Khan, Urmee; Eden, Richard (2009-05-24). "Ruth Padel under pressure to resign Oxford post over emails about rival poet Derek Walcott". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  10. ^ Lovell, Rebecca (2009-05-26). "Hay festival diary: Ruth Padel talks about the poetry professorship scandal". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  11. ^ "Oxford professor of poetry resigns". The Guardian (London). 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  12. ^ Robert McCrum (2009-05-31). "Robert McCrum: Who dares to follow in Ruth Padel's footsteps?". The Observer (London). Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  13. ^ Al Alvarez, Alan Brownjohn, Carmen Bugan, David Constantine, Elizabeth Cook, Robert Conquest, Jonty Driver, Seamus Heaney, Jenny Joseph, Patrick Kavanagh, Grevel Lindop, Patrick McGuinness, Lucy Newlyn, Bernard O’Donoghue, Michael Schmidt, Jon Stallworthy, Michael Suarez, Don Thomas, Anthony Thwaite, 'Oxford Professor of Poetry', Times Literary Supplement, June 3, 2009, p. 6.
  14. ^ [‘Don’t wrong Ruth Padel’, Letters, The Guardian May 28, 2009]
  15. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (2009-05-29). "Hay cuts". The Guardian (London). 
  16. ^ ["Poetry's Loss," The Times Letters, 29 May 2009, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/sitesearch.do?querystring=letters+poetry&p=tto&pf=all ]
  17. ^ Halford, Macy (2009-01-07). "The Book Bench: Oxford's Gender Trouble". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  18. ^ http://www.quillandquire.com/blog/index.php/2009/05/26/ruth-padel-resigns-but-the-gender-war-rages-on/
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ Gardner, Suzanne (2009-05-26). "Ruth Padel resigns, but the "gender war" rages on | Quillblog | Quill & Quire". Quillandquire.com. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  21. ^ [2]
  22. ^ McCrum, Robert (2009-05-31). "Who dares to follow in Ruth's footsteps?". The Guardian (London). 
  23. ^ "Election of Professor of Poetry, Convocation, 16th May 2009". University of Oxford. 2009-05-26. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  24. ^ "Newsnight: From the web team". BBC. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  25. ^ "List of nominees". Oxford University website. 2010-05-07. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  26. ^ Flood, Alison (2010-06-09). "Oxford poetry professor candidate withdraws as controversy erupts again". The Guardian (London). 
  27. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (2010-03-25). "Geoffrey Hill nominated Professor of Poetry at Oxford after scandal". The Times (London). 
  28. ^ Flood, Alison (2010-06-18). "Geoffrey Hill wins Oxford Professor of Poetry election by landslide". The Guardian (London). 
  29. ^ http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2010/100618_1.html
  30. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (2010-06-18). "Geoffrey Hill Is Oxford's Next Professor of Poetry". The New York Times. 
  31. ^ University of Oxford, About the University: Past Professors of Poetry. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  32. ^ "What does Oxford's professor of poetry do?", BBC News Magazine, 26 May 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  33. ^ a b Newman, Gerald, and Brown, Leslie Ellen (editors), Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia (London: Taylor & Francis, 1997), 745–746.
  34. ^ Liddon, Henry Parry, Chapter XXVII: Visit to Ireland—The Jerusalem Bishopric—The Poetry Professorship—Friendly Remonstrances. 1841–1842., Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, Volume 2 (London: Longmans, 1894), quote: "Mr. Garbett's name had not been in the first instance suggested by any purely literary anxiety to provide for the discharge of the duties of the Poetry chair". Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  35. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1995. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  36. ^ Obituary: Heaney ‘the most important Irish poet since Yeats’, Irish Times, 30 August 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  37. ^ Contemporarywriters.com, Professor James Fenton — British Council Literature. Retrieved 4 February 2014.

External links[edit]