We begin the week here on My Poetic Side with a look at the appointment of a new Oxford Professor of Poetry.
New Oxford Professor of Poetry Elected
Alice Oswald has been elected to the position of Oxford professor of poetry by a substantial margin. The role, which was established three centuries ago, is the second most significant poetry position in the UK after the Poet Laureate. Oswald will be the first woman to have served in the role.
Oswald was interviewed following the confirmation that she had been appointed and said that it had been a “distinctly unsettling process” and she was “very pleased, daunted, grateful to my nominators”. She is now looking forward to considering all types of poetry but in particular “the fugitive airborne forms.”
Oswald has nine books of poetry which have been published. They all explore the themes of myth and nature. She has also won numerous awards over the years including the TS Eliot prize, the Griffin Prize and the Costa poetry award. She has been referred to as the best UK poet who is currently writing bar none, by Carol Ann Duffy the former poet laureate. Her fellow writer Jeanette Winterson has hailed her the “rightful heir” of Ted Hughes.
The dreamlike visions that Oswald includes in her poems are rooted in her incredibly accurate observations of plants, animals and the landscape. She also reworks many ancient stories, filling them with compassion and humanity.
Oswald was born in 1966. She went to Oxford where she studied classics. Whilst her career as a poet was just starting to take off, she also worked as a gardener. “The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile”, her debut work, was a winner of the Forward first collection prize 1996. In 2002 she won the TS Eliot award for “Dart”. In 2010 she worked with Jessica Greenman on “Weeds and Wild Flowers” which won the Ted Hughes prize. Her most recent win was with “Falling Awake “which won both the Griffin Prize and the Costa award.
The position of Oxford professor of poetry was established in 1708. Over the years it has been held by many well-known poets including WH Auden, Seamus Heaney and Robert Graves In order to be considered, each candidate must gain the support of a minimum of 50 Oxford graduates and be “of sufficient distinction to be able to fulfil the duties of the post”. These duties include giving one lecture per term for the four-year tenure of the position. The other poets who were nominated were Andrew McMillan and Todd Swift. Oswald won with 1046 votes, McMillan got 201 and Swift just 58.
This year the contest was plagued with adverse publicity and problems surrounding Swift, the funder of Eyewear Publishing, an independent poetry imprint, and the clauses in the contracts that forbade authors from getting in touch with the Society of Authors.
The 2009 election was also problematic. Ruth Padel was elected to the position but just two weeks later was forced to resign after it was discovered that she had made allegations of sexual misconduct against Derek Walcott, a fellow shortlistee.