Oxford Professor of Poetry

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The Professor of Poetry is an 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 a single four-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. Alice Oswald, elected on 21 June 2019, is the current Professor of Poetry.[4] She is the first woman to hold this post, although not the first woman elected to it. She succeeded Simon Armitage on 1 October 2019, who held the professorship from 2015.[5]


The elections typically attract media attention and involve campaigning by proponents of quite diverse candidates. In the past, both practising poets and academic critics have been chosen.

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the first woman elected to the post since its inception in 1708.[6] The Nobel Prize-winning candidate Derek Walcott had withdrawn his candidacy, following what he called a “low and degrading” campaign against him,[7] after The Sunday Times and Cherwell revealed that around 100 Oxford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 accusations made against Walcott at Harvard University and Boston University.[6][7][8] 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.[citation needed] Newspapers had previously claimed Walcott was the favourite,[6] although Libby Purves suggested that this claim was based on a misunderstanding of the electoral system.[9] Padel criticised the anonymous missives and denied any knowledge of them, though many in the media continued to insinuate her involvement.[8] After her election, two journalists who had previously 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.[10][11] Padel stated, 'I wish he had not pulled out'[12] and resigned on 25 May only nine days after her election.[13]

Letters to British newspapers criticised media handling of the election. An open letter to the Times Literary Supplement,[14] 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,[15][16] 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."[17] American commentators attributed the series of events to an assumption on the part of academics and writers that a gender war was behind it all,[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"[19][20]

Some commentators in Britain supported Padel, attributing the smear campaign in the media to misogyny[9] 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]

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]

2015 election[edit]

On 19 June 2015, Simon Armitage was elected as Geoffrey Hill’s successor.[5]

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
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"
2 Thomas Warton the Elder
(c. 1688–1745)
1718 1726 [33]
3 Joseph Spence.jpg Joseph Spence
1728 1738
4 John Whitfield 1738 1741
5 Robert Lowth, after RE Pine.jpg Robert Lowth
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
1751 1756
  • English clergyman, author of sermons, poet and dramatist
7 Thomas Warton by Reynolds.jpg Thomas Warton the Younger
1757 1766 [33]
8 Benjamin Wheeler 1766 1776
9 John Randolph Bishop of London 1811 by William Owen.jpg John Randolph
1776 1783
10 Robert Holmes
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
1793 1801
12 Edward Copleston (1776–1849) Bishop of Llandaff.jpg Edward Copleston
1802 1812
13 John Josias Conybeare
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 Portrait of Henry Hart Milman.jpg Henry Hart Milman
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.jpg John Keble
1831 1841
16 James Garbett
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
17 Thomas Legh Claughton.jpg Thomas Legh Claughton
1852 1857
18 Matthew Arnold.jpg Matthew Arnold
1857 1867
  • British poet, school inspector, educator and cultural critic; recipient of Newdigate Prize (1843) for poem Cromwell; Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford; godson of John Keble
19 Sir Francis Hastings Doyle engraving circa 1880.jpg Francis Hastings Doyle
1867 1877
  • British poet, attorney, and civil servant
20 John Campbell Shairp 1819-1885 by Robert Inerarity Herdman 1886.jpg John Campbell Shairp
1877 1885
21 Portrait of Francis Turner Palgrave.jpg Francis Turner Palgrave
1885 1895
  • British critic and poet.
22 William Courthope
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
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
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
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
1920 1923
27 Heathcote William Garrod
1923 1928
28 Ernest de Sélincourt
1928 1933
29 George Stuart Gordon
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
1938 1943
Vacant 1944 1946
31 Maurice Bowra
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
1951 1956
  • Anglo-Irish poet and mystery writer, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1968–1972)
33 AudenVanVechten1939.jpg W. H. Auden
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
1961 1966
  • English poet, novelist, classical scholar and translator; author of over 140 works
35 Edmundblundencirca1914.jpg Edmund Blunden
1966 1968
  • English poet, author and critic
36 Roy Fuller
1968 1973
  • English poet and novelist
37 John Wain
1973 1978
38 John Jones
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
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
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
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
2010 2015
45 Simon Armitage in 2009.jpg Simon Armitage
(born 1963)
2015 2019 [38]
46 - Alice Oswald
(born 1966)
2019 -


  1. ^ "Birkhead, Henry" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. ^ Mcgrath, Charles (9 December 2009). "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. 22 January 2009. Archived from the original on 4 July 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  4. ^ "Alice Oswald elected as new Oxford Professor of Poetry". Oxford University. 21 June 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b Flood, Alison (19 June 2015). "Simon Armitage wins Oxford professor of poetry election". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b c "Padel becomes Oxford Professor of Poetry". The Irish Times. 16 May 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Bittersweet victory for Ruth Padel". The Independent. London. 17 May 2009. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  8. ^ a b Harrison, David (16 May 2009). "Ruth Padel's win 'poisoned' by smear campaign". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  9. ^ a b Purves, Libby (18 May 2009). "A familiar reek of misogyny and mistrust". The Times. London.
  10. ^ Woods, Richard (24 May 2009). "Call for Oxford poet to resign after sex row". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
  11. ^ Khan, Urmee; Eden, Richard (24 May 2009). "Ruth Padel under pressure to resign Oxford post over emails about rival poet Derek Walcott". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  12. ^ Lovell, Rebecca (26 May 2009). "Hay festival diary: Ruth Padel talks about the poetry professorship scandal". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 May 2009.
  13. ^ "Oxford professor of poetry resigns". The Guardian. London. 25 May 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2009.
  14. ^ 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, 3 June 2009, p. 6.
  15. ^ [‘Don’t wrong Ruth Padel’, Letters, The Guardian 28 May 2009]
  16. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (29 May 2009). "Hay cuts". The Guardian. London.
  17. ^ ["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 ]
  18. ^ Halford, Macy (7 January 2009). "The Book Bench: Oxford's Gender Trouble". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  19. ^ "Search". The New Yorker.
  20. ^ Gardner, Suzanne (26 May 2009). "Ruth Padel resigns, but the "gender war" rages on | Quillblog | Quill & Quire". Quillandquire.com. Archived from the original on 1 June 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 June 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ McCrum, Robert (31 May 2009). "Who dares to follow in Ruth's footsteps?". The Guardian. London.
  23. ^ "Election of Professor of Poetry, Convocation, 16th May 2009". University of Oxford. 26 May 2009. Archived from the original on 10 May 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  24. ^ "Newsnight: From the web team". BBC. Retrieved 10 September 2010.
  25. ^ "List of nominees". Oxford University website. 7 May 2010. Archived from the original on 9 May 2010. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  26. ^ Flood, Alison (9 June 2010). "Oxford poetry professor candidate withdraws as controversy erupts again". The Guardian. London.
  27. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (25 March 2010). "Geoffrey Hill nominated Professor of Poetry at Oxford after scandal". The Times. London.
  28. ^ Flood, Alison (18 June 2010). "Geoffrey Hill wins Oxford Professor of Poetry election by landslide". The Guardian. London.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 June 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (18 June 2010). "Geoffrey Hill Is Oxford's Next Professor of Poetry". The New York Times.
  31. ^ University of Oxford, About the University: Past Professors of Poetry Archived 1 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 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. Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ Professor Simon Armitage - School of English, University of Sheffield Retrieved 15 October 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ricks, Christopher (2009) "Oxford University Professorship of Poetry": English Faculty news; issue 2, pp. 4-6

External links[edit]