I’m on a bus to London at the moment, on my way to catch another bus to Aldeburgh to sing BWV 198 tonight in Snape Maltings (that alto aria! It’s ravishing to sing in spite of the impossibly long phrases – Bach, you bastard). But my mind is entirely on the election for the next Oxford Professor of Poetry, whose results will be announced today.
Will it be A.E. Stallings, Simon Armitage, Wole Soyinka, Ian Gregson, or Sean Haldane? It’s very likely to be one of the first three; the others probably don’t have high enough profiles to attract sufficient votes (although Haldane did come third last time, in a very different race).
Soyinka, the Nigerian activist-poet, is the most distinguished, with a Nobel prize, a stint in prison under an oppressive regime, and fifty years of writing about human rights under his belt, but there are serious doubts about his commitment to the role as a teaching position. Simon Armitage would make a fine and energetic choice, and I admire him immensely, but my preference is for A.E. Stallings.
A major regret is that I voted for Simon Armitage before I was asked to write a piece about the election for Quadrapheme. At the tine of voting, I had only done some cursory research by reading the Guardian’s coverage of the contest (which gave the impression that Soyinka and Armitage were the distant front-runners and nobody else was really involved). I hope other Oxford graduates eligible to vote were more thoughtful, but I have a horrible feeling the one-sided media coverage may have had a heavy impact.
It wasn’t until I started reading about each of the candidates in depth in order to write the piece that I understood how vital A.E. Stallings is, as a poet, translator, and classicist. She’s also a terrific public speaker, and an incredible advocate for the discipline and transcendence of poetic endeavour. For what it’s worth, I warmly endorse her for the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry, and look forward anxiously to hearing the result later today. We need more women in positions like this, and while I don’t believe in forcing the issue by appointing people who aren’t the equals of their competitors just to fill a quota, it would make me immensely happy to see A.E. Stallings – an American, a scholar, a woman, a new Formalist – in such an influential post, especially in a year when Oxford has nominated its first female Vice-Chancellor.
For deeper background, head over to Quadrapheme.