Oxford Poetry Professor Controversy – Poetry News May 27th

In our first poetry news round-up of the week, we take a look at the controversy that is growing around the selection of a new Oxford poetry professor.

Contest for Oxford Poetry Professor Hits Growing Controversy

With the decision made for the successor to the title of UK Poet Laureate, those in the poetry world have turned their attention to the other big poetry title that is due to be filled shortly. The hunt is now firmly on for the next Oxford poetry professor and there are three candidates in the running. Alice Oswald, Andrew McMillan and Todd Swift have all issued their campaign statements, as the efforts to exclude Swift from the running have picked up the pace

This is a professorship that lasts for four years, which will involve the winning candidate giving a lecture in public each term. The role is currently occupied by Simon Armitage, the new Poet Laureate. Each candidate needs to have been nominated by a minimum of 50 graduates from Oxford.

Oswald who is a winner of the Costa as well as the Griffin Prize and the TS Eliot prize, has the most nominations with 167 – a number which includes Andrew Motion, a former UK poet laureate, Hermione Lee, the academic and Mark Haddon the novelist. McMillan has 84 nominations and is a winner of several major poetry prizes including a Guardian first book award. Todd Swift, a British/Canadian poet has just 60 nominations.

From this Thursday until 20th June each of the three candidates will have the chance to approach Oxford graduates for votes. Each of the candidates will publish a statement that stakes what they feel is their claim to the role of poet laureate. It has been occupied by such poets as WH Auden, Matthew Arnold and Robert Graves.

Oswald is promising that if she were to be elected, she would host


She wants to reconnect young poets with what poetry is and what it has been in the past.

McMillan has used his statement to point to the “moment” that poetry is currently having. Last year sales hit an all time high and two-thirds of those sales were made to people under the age of 34. McMillan himself is only 30 and has been quick to concede that his relative youth may be an obstacle to his appointment. Although as he points out, he has half a decade on Keats at his oldest and his contribution he feels would be very fresh and dynamic.

The controversy that is centred around Todd Swift centres on his possible unsuitability for the role. Fellow poets Claire Trevien and Aaron Kent have made a joint statement in which they point to the various accounts of the poet’s behaviour which are readily available on social media platforms. In the past he has been involved in some issues that encroached on the civil rights of authors using his small press, Eyewear Publishing. There is also a report against him from Vida, the organisation that overseas women in the literary arts. There have been several requests made for him to be removed from the contest; Oxford state that they have yet to receive these.

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