Eleven candidates argue their suitability for August academic role ahead of start of voting this week
"Larkin, who has plans for a poetry slam contest in Oxford, says he intends to "reload the literary canon and fire it through the walls of any stifling ivory tower that blocks the emergence of an exciting and inclusive live literature scene". PUL-EEZE
Promises to use poetry as a "weapon, bloodsoaked and glinting" and plans for a poetry slam contest suggest the competition for the role of Oxford poetry professor is heating up. The 11 candidates have each laid out their reasons for standing – one of them entirely in verse.
"I thought it might be oh-so hip / to win me a professorship, / and so I thought I'd write this note / to woo, to wow, to win your vote," writes Robert P Lacey, a medic who says if he were to be voted in by Oxford graduates, he'd write a poem a week and post it online, and also "form another, smallish prize / for poetry that please my eyes".
Outsider Lacey is up against best-known candidate Geoffrey Hill, whose backer, Professor Dame Averil Cameron, describes him as "a lecturer of unrivalled power, whose standing as a poet gives his discourse an added dimension". Hill might be the most eminent writer in the running, but Oxford-based performance poet Steve Larkin is currently the frontrunner in terms of supporters, with 317 members in his campaigning Facebook group, compared with Hill's 227.
Larkin, who has plans for a poetry slam contest in Oxford, says he intends to "reload the literary canon and fire it through the walls of any stifling ivory tower that blocks the emergence of an exciting and inclusive live literature scene".
Competitor Roger Lewis, biographer of Anthony Burgess and Peter Sellers, is not a poet but a critic "who is attuned to poetry wherever it might be found, whether in opera libretti and biblical translations, in follies and grottoes, or in poetic personalities", according to his candidate statement. Lewis promised in the Times to "lead a rebellion against sour academics" if he were to be elected. "When I heard that the dons were sewing it up to elect either 77-year-old Geoffrey Hill or 75-year-old Michael Horovitz to the chair of poetry at Oxford, my heart sank," he said. "I'm sure they are nice old codgers, but I'm afraid I find their work serious-minded to the point of pain and obscure of purpose."
The Guardian's own contender for the role, journalist Stephen Moss, said he would give away the £7,000 yearly stipend "to needy poets and writers, and to good literary causes" if he were to be voted in by graduates, as well as set up an annual two-week poetry festival in Oxford and "buy anyone who votes for me a drink". As if that were not enough, Moss also "faithfully" vowed "not to publish too many of my execrable poems".
Perhaps the most dramatic statement of intent, however, comes from Sanskrit scholar Vaughan Pilikian, who claims that "meaning is in ruins, the divided world godless, broken, ailing, and no one has the will or temper to restore it".
"Without wishing to take anything from the professorship's venerable past, the time has surely come to douse
the sputtering flames of our own traditions and step out into the dark," he rallies supporters. "My aim in this august office will be to pull poetry from the drawing rooms and the garrets and the palaces, and send it forth. For poetry is a weapon, bloodsoaked and glinting. It is a gnostic heresy, a counterattack on all that holds us captive,
a challenge to the cruel symmetries and stifled laughter of the Demiurge. It is only through poetry that we might revenge ourselves on time."
Voting for the 11 candidates – who also include South African poet Chris Mann, "poet, husbandman and tunemaker" Michael George Gibson, poet and clinical neuropsychologist Sean Haldane and poet Paula Claire – opens on 21 May and closes on 18 June. The winner will start their five-year term in the autumn.