Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has declared that he is not interested in becoming the next Oxford Professor of Poetry and added that he thinks the “position at Oxford is in drastic need of an overhaul”.
The role, which is regarded by many as the second most prestigious of its kind in the literary, is currently filled by Christopher Ricks whose term of office ends this spring.
Motion had been tipped to succeed Ricks in the post, but in an interview with The Evening Standard, the Poet Laureate lampooned the Oxford professorship, arguing that it has been “outflanked by creative writing courses. The pay’s too little, the teaching requirements too vague, and the voting system simply farcical.”
Oxford University’s Head of English, Sally Mapstone, defended the value of the position and suggested that the professorship provided a unique opportunity for poets: “Although it may seem eccentric and antiquated in its construction, [it] actually it works very well. Would a poet want a full-time job? It leaves a poet free to write and think.”
She emphasised that the relatively low salary was simply the reward for providing three lectures a year. “Christopher Ricks’s lectures have been wonderful and have had enormous audiences.”
There are, however, a number of other poets who are currently considered to be potential candidates for the professorship. They include Ruth Padel, a former classics lecturer at Oxford and the great-great-grandaughter of Charles Darwin.
Carol Ann Duffy and Anne Carson have also been cited as also potential contenders, but Sally Mapstone commented that there was still plenty of time for new nominations to arrive.
“We’re dealing with poets here, who are not the world’s most organised people. Let’s not forget that there are all sorts of interesting new poets out there. I feel we should be throwing the net as wide as possible” she said.
Michael George Gibson has also announced that he will be applying for the role. On his website he states, “I have a special insight into the rhythmical nature of all English poetry which I am developing and demonstrating through performance.”
Prospective candidates for the professorship are currently elected by graduates of the University to serve a five year term. Nominees must register the support of sixteen former students by the end of April to be eligible for the post. If required, an election will then be held.
The appointment comes with a salary of £6,901 per annum in return for providing three lectures at the University. They must also provide the ‘Creweian Oration’, a declaration of thanks to the University’s benefactors.
The position was established in 1708 followed a bequest to the University. Previous holders have included W.H. Auden and Seamus Heaney.