"Seven bums and fourteen legs,
a brazen ecstasy which begs
the question some of us are asking -
is Peter Goulding multi-tasking?"

Martin Parker, Editor, Lighten Up Online

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oxford poetry professor candidates clash

Lifted from the Guardian -
With just four days to go before the results of the contest are revealed, Michael Horovitz, the Beat poet, musician and founder of the Poetry Olympics, has taken exception to a piece written by his fellow nominee Anthony Burgess's biographer Roger Lewis, in last week's Telegraph, in which Lewis laid out his thoughts about what poetry was.
From the "sea foam in Homer" to "the characters eating the watermelon in Chekhov's The Lady With the Little Dog – sheer mysterious ecstasy", the "colour of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes", the "tilt of Garbo's face in profile" and the "bend of Chaplin's cane", Lewis said he hoped "this range of knowledge, idiosyncrasy and emotion" would win him "a few votes".

"I hope you can see that I honour 'What can be seen, what can be heard, what can be learned', as Herakleitos put it," wrote the author, adding that he had been persuaded to run for the position "by various publishers, editors and writers outside Oxford and by people now in the cabinet".

But Horovitz, who is standing for the position against eight other candidates as well as Lewis, including the British poet Geoffrey Hill, the South African poet Chris Mann and the Guardian journalist Stephen Moss, was unimpressed with Lewis's musings. Calling Lewis's claim to honour Herakleitos "more emblematic of pseudointellectual chutzpah than Parnassian authority", he wrote in a letter to today's Telegraph that, although the list was "at first sight quite intriguing, [it] contained few allusions to actual poetry".

"If Mr Lewis were to engage students with his avowedly poetic topics, the Herakleitos questions could not revealingly be addressed – Liz Taylor's eyes being pretty inaccessible for authentic colour-checks; Pinter's pauses, bereft of the words that frame them, definitively inaudible; and Sir Ralph Richardson per se sadly unavailable as a fount of learning," wrote Horovitz. "Mr Lewis could presumably spout the hind legs off a donkey about these subjects, but how does this qualify him to follow Masefield, Auden, Graves and Heaney as the next professor of poetry?"

This is just the latest spat to rock this year's election. Last week, the only female candidate for the role, poet Paula Claire, pulled out of the running, alleging favouritism towards the best-known candidate, Geoffrey Hill.
Last year, Ruth Padel was elected to the professorship but stood down after nine days after it emerged that she had alerted journalists to past allegations of sexual harassment made against her competitor for the position, Derek Walcott.

Horovitz told the Guardian this morning that he decided to run for the post because he wanted "the past to be redeemed" following last year's debacle. "I wrote to the Telegraph after I saw Lewis's absurd, grandiloquent, voluminous list quoting a maximum of two lines of poetry, which if he's standing for a chair of poetry, is entirely absurd. I'll give him half a mark for chutzpah and ludicrosity and self-promotion though," said the poet, who has appeared alongside the likes of Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender and Allen Ginsberg.

To be honest, neither of them excite me. Can they rhyme broccoli with cockily? Where was this position advertised? I never heard about it.


  1. Peter, send in the cv anyway... you never know!

  2. Just listened to your interview with Niamh - I've put it on Twitter and Facebook. It was brilliant! I was nodding my head like one of those little dogs in the back window of the car!

    So nice to hear a champion of rhyme!


  3. Niamh, I wrote an open application in the Community Voice for the residency at Farmleigh which Dermot Bolger read out to the selection committee! Amazingly, I didn't land it.
    Kat, as my daughter would say, OMG.