Oxford poetry professorship re-run beginsControversy scuppered the first vote, now three new nominees have been confirmed
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 April 2010 19.37 BST
Britain’s other election – for a successor to WH Auden, Robert Graves and Seamus Heaney as Oxford university’s professor of poetry – today became a three-way race. The university announced that so far there had been three nominations for the job: Geoffrey Hill, Paula Claire and Seán Haldane.
This year’s election is a re-run after a debacle last year, when first Derek Walcott pulled out over sexual harassment allegations, and then Ruth Padel withdrew, after it emerged that she had told journalists about the accusations against Walcott, which dated from the early 1980s.
It was all rather unseemly and not something that usually happens during an election for a position considered second only to that of the poet laureate in terms of prestige.
The new vote will take place in June and, of the candidates, Hill is by far the best known. Although he needs just 12 Oxford graduates as nominees, Hill, 77, has secured the support of 49 serving dons. He has won the Hawthornden Prize (1969) and the Whitbread Award (1971). His poetry has been described as savage and brooding. It includes King Log, Mercian Hymns and September Song.
The other two candidates may have an uphill struggle against him.
Haldane, in his statement of interest, describes himself as a consultant clinical neuropsychologist who is currently working in the NHS in east London developing memory clinics. He adds: “I have never wanted to make a living from poetry, but it has been the centre of my life.”
As well as publishing volumes of poetry, he wrote two psychology books for the public in the 1980s – Emotional First Aid, 1988, and Couples Dynamics, 1985.
If elected, Haldane says he wants to “talk about the neuropsychology of poetry, poetry and verse, poetry and ‘more-than-coincidence’, poetry in different languages, and what Hardy called its ‘sustaining power’.”
Claire’s listed aims include being able “to provide a comprehensive update on the hidden mass of innovative 20th-century poetic forms; show how the tradition of group speaking of poetry has been revitalised; and encourage the use of modern technology in the service of poetry”.
Nominations for the role as successor to Sir Christopher Ricks, which comes with a £7,000 annual stipend, close on May 5.
Voting will take place between 21 May and 16 June. The winner is named on 18 June.
Last year’s scandal prompted Oxford University to change the voting system for the election, which had previously only allowed Oxford graduates to vote in person at the university on a single day. Now graduates will be able to vote online, as well in person over a period of time.
Andrew Motion, who ruled himself out of the running, said last year: “Geoffrey Hill would get my vote, if he can be persuaded to run.”