Friday, March 26, 2010

Battling Bards

"The Endgame of one of the most acrimonious literary spats in recent times began yesterday when one of the nation's most divisive poets revered for his "brooding verse" and chastised for being "inaccessible" was announced as a candidate for Oxford University's next professor of poetry."

I'm trying to imagine the general American reading public following a competition among academics and poets for a poetry chair as intently as UK readers have been following this one, made all the more entertaining by resignations, withdrawals, scandals and infighting. 

A sampler...


  1. Hi Vanessa. I don't think the British public has been following this closely, but many journalists have. Lots of them read English at Oxford, so feel particularly involved. It was the scandal last year that galvanised everyone. Both Walcott and Padel have a high profile among poetry readers over here. I think the general public got a bit fed up with hearing about it.

    But this time round, even among poetry insiders, the debate has been fairly muted, mostly because the appointment affects so few. Journalists may publish articles about it because over here poetry has a slightly classy image, but I doubt they are able to sell a lot of advertising on the back of it.

    This forthcoming election (if there is one: Hill, who is greatly respected, may well be unopposed) will be the first where voters don't have to turn up in person, and will be open to Oxford graduates worldwide to vote online.

  2. Then let me amend "I'm trying to imagine the general American reading public" to "I'm trying to imagine the American press." Just as unimaginable.

    I thought I'd blogged the last round but can't find the post. I must have limited myself to forwarding gleefully to academics

  3. I'm sure you're right. It could be that no single institution dominates US journalism as much as Oxford does over here - both in print and broadcast media. I don't know the proportions, but there are certainly enough of them to have an influence. And there's still a bit of deference about, even now.

    The Oxford post is an anomaly; it's more like a laureateship, and the method of election by (in theory) all graduates is pretty weird. I don't think any other academic post would attract such coverage.

    As for US national poet laureate: is that appointment widely covered over there? That might be more comparable, I think.

  4. Very interesting comparison ~ no single university truly dominates US journalism and the graduates that might are more likely to come from a prestigious school of journalism such as Columbia or Annenberg at USC. At first glance, that doesn't seem relevant to poetry but does bear on presentation, coverage and reception.

    Poet Laureates get minimal coverage of short duration - more in inauguration years. Major literary awards - National Book Award and Pulitzer probably get more.

    Slam gets more coverage - in and out its niches as well as locally. Some bridge the "page and stage gap" (as a slammer friend calls it) better than others.


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