Saturday, 8 May 2010



Amanda, Andrew, Bruce, Laura, Martin, Mike, Oliver, Patrick, Phil, Richard B, Richard P, Rip, Robert M, Robert Mc, Robin, Rory, Sandy, Sholto, William.

Now the nominations for the Oxford Professorship of Poetry have been completed and your surnames with initials have appeared in a list on the Elections website, I’d like to thank you again for your support. And I find myself asking ‘Who are my nominators?’ What does the list say about me, or the post of P of P, or poetry?

I don’t want to invade your privacy by identifying you too precisely, and not all of you know each other although I hope some day you will. But what can be said of you as a group?

For one thing, only two of you are women, which saddens me, but is a result of the fact that when I was at Oxford there were so few women there, and when Rory (my campaign manager as it were) and I thought of possible nominators we started with people we had known at Oxford who were all men. So there is a cluster of our contemporaries – eight of you. Otherwise in age you range from 30 to 93. You live in the UK, Belgium, France, and Canada.

At least eleven of you have published books, three of you books of poems or of poetry translations. Seven of you are university professors or fellows: in history (medieval, scientific), languages (Icelandic & Old Norse, Old English, French & Spanish), peace studies/conflict resolution, and psychology. You include a novelist, a botanist, a medical specialist, a BBC manager, one of the founders of Mass Observation in the late 1930s, a publisher, an expert in conflict resolution, the manager of a European agency, a retired schoolmaster, the director of a language school, the mayor of a town in Canada, an industrialist, a psychologist, and a pianist. Some of these overlap.

As a group you show a tremendous range – which I hope reflects a range in my own interests and friendships. I enjoy the fact that none of you are teachers of English literature (although several of you, like me, graduated in English, and nine of you are or have been academics), because although poetry is naturally at home in English literature I don’t think it is only in the possession of English Faculties. Poetry means something to all of you.

I have been moved to have your support so far, and I hope that whatever conversation we get going among ourselves about poetry and life will continue after the election, and bring into itself friends and companions who are not on this list. For now, I would be really pleased if even the reticent among you could help me get a conversation going on this blog.

This week’s Times Literary Supplement, using the royal we in referring to some of the nominees in this election, states ‘We don’t know... Haldane...’, and I hear that Clive James has also referred to some nominees, including me, as ‘unknowns’. I suppose that so far in my life I have been content to be known to those I want to know. Most of you have known me for years. The various volumes of poems I have published have found a circle of readers, some of whom have written to me or come to know me. And nowadays anyone, even the TLS or Clive James, can get to know something about almost anyone by clicking onto the Net - if they want to. But in standing for the Professorship of Poetry I do need to make myself and my work known more widely. This blog is one way to do so.


8 May 2010



At 9 May 2010 at 07:15 , Anonymous Rip said...

Thanks for the survey, Seán. It's worth knowing something about the company one keeps. And how good to see you emerging slightly from the ruck in today's Observer. Their Haldane v. Hill point is what I tried to convey to someone from the Sunday Times a week or so ago, whether he took it in or not. But n.b. what the Observer says about Steve Larkin's chances. If they'd done their homework and realized that the electorate now includes all BAs -- even Wikipedia knows that -- they could have made the Larkin point more strongly. But the problem/task for all contenders now is how to rekindle any sort of election fever out there? There's nothing doing at Ladbroke's yet, for example.


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