Oxford Professor of Poetry

The chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford is an unusual academic appointment, now held for a term of five years, and chosen through an election open to all members of Convocation, namely, all graduates and current academics of the university; in 2010, on-line voting was allowed.[1] It carries an obligation to lecture, but is in effect a part-time position. As of 2009, it carried a stipend of £6,901[2] (£4,695 as of 2005) plus £40 in travel expenses for each Creweian Oration.

The Professor of Poetry delivers 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. The chair was endowed in 1708 following a bequest by Henry Birkhead.[3]


Recent elections

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

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the first woman elected to the post since its inception in 1708.[4] The Nobel Prize-Winning candidate Derek Walcott had withdrawn his candidacy,[5] after The Sunday Times and Cherwell revealed that various Oxford academics had been sent, anonymously, photocopied pages from The Lecherous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 criticized 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 criticize 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 criticized 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

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]

Holders of the position


  1. ^ Mcgrath, Charles (2009-12-09). "Oxford Institutes a New Election Process for Its Poetry Post". The New York Times. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/oxford-institutes-a-new-election-process-for-its-poetry-post/. 
  2. ^ "Oxford launches search for next Professor of Poetry". Oxford University. 2009-01-22. http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_releases_for_journalists/090122.html. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  3. ^  "Birkhead, Henry". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  4. ^ a b c "Padel becomes Oxford Professor of Poetry". The Irish Times. 2009-05-16. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/0516/breaking39.htm. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  5. ^ a b "Bittersweet victory for Ruth Padel". London: The Independent. 2009-05-17. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/bittersweet-victory-for-ruth-padel-1686273.html. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  6. ^ a b c Harrison, David (2009-05-16). "Ruth Padel's win 'poisoned' by smear campaign". London: The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/5336559/Ruth-Padels-win-poisoned-by-smear-campaign.html. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  7. ^ a b Purves, Libby (2009-05-18). "A familiar reek of misogyny and mistrust". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/libby_purves/article6307735.ece. 
  8. ^ Woods, Richard (2009-05-24). "Call for Oxford poet to resign after sex row". London: The Sunday Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6350589.ece. 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". London: Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/5378474/Ruth-Padel-under-pressure-to-resign-Oxford-post-over-emails-about-rival-poet-Derek-Walcott.html. Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  10. ^ Lovell, Rebecca (2009-05-26). "Hay festival diary: Ruth Padel talks about the poetry professorship scandal". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/video/2009/may/26/hay-festival-ruth-padel. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  11. ^ "Oxford professor of poetry resigns". London: The Guardian. 2009-05-25. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/25/ruth-padel-oxford-poetry-resigns. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  12. ^ Robert McCrum (2009-05-31). "Robert McCrum: Who dares to follow in Ruth Padel's footsteps? | Books | The Observer". London: Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/31/ruth-padel-derek-walcott-oxford-professor-poetry. 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 McGuiness, 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 28th 2009]
  15. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (2009-05-29). "Hay cuts". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/29/guardian-hay-festival-ruth-padel. 
  16. ^ [“Poetry’s Loss,” The Times Letters, 29th 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. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/05/oxfords-gender-trouble.html. 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. http://www.quillandquire.com/blog/index.php/2009/05/26/ruth-padel-resigns-but-the-gender-war-rages-on/. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  21. ^ [2]
  22. ^ McCrum, Robert (2009-05-31). "Who dares to follow in Ruth's footsteps?". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/31/ruth-padel-derek-walcott-oxford-professor-poetry. 
  23. ^ "Election of Professor of Poetry, Convocation, 16th May 2009". University of Oxford. 2009-05-26. http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/gov/poetry.shtml. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  24. ^ "Newsnight: From the web team". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/fromthewebteam/2009/05/. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  25. ^ "List of nominees". Oxford University website. 2010-05-07. http://www.ox.ac.uk/about_the_university/oxford_people/professor_of_poetry/nominees/. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  26. ^ Flood, Alison (2010-06-09). "Oxford poetry professor candidate withdraws as controversy erupts again". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/09/oxford-poetry-professor-claire. 
  27. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (2010-03-25). "Geoffrey Hill nominated Professor of Poetry at Oxford after scandal". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7074920.ece. 
  28. ^ Flood, Alison (2010-06-18). "Geoffrey Hill wins Oxford Professor of Poetry election by landslide". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/18/oxford-professor-poetry-geoffrey-hill. 
  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. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/geoffrey-hill-is-oxfords-next-professor-of-poetry/. 
  31. ^ Whitfield was an Oxford M.A. and tutor of Christ Church, Oxford. He became rector of Bideford in 1741 or 1742, a position he held until 1783. http://www.archive.org/stream/northdevon00sneluoft#page/n171/mode/2up
  32. ^ Wheeler was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Regius Professor of Divinity and canon of Christ Church, Oxford from 1776 to 1783. http://www.archive.org/stream/historicalregist00univrich#page/46/mode/2up

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