Wednesday, 19 June 2019

On Voting for Alice Oswald

With ten minutes to go before the poll closed at noon today, I found myself voting for Alice Oswald as Oxford’s next Professor of Poetry – despite having nominated one of her two rivals, Andrew McMillan, some weeks back.  It would obviously be good to have the first-ever woman in the post – all the more after the Ruth Padel fiasco of a few years back; and I know a little of Oswald’s environmental poetry and poetics too, so she’ll be a politically topical and correct choice in that respect as well.  But it was her description of herself as a ‘Homer fanatic’ in her supporting statement for the post that finally decided me, and I hope that in her four years in the role – if she does win – she will abundantly justify that self-description.

Morrisians are supposed to be anti-Classics, of course; for was not Morris attempting to displace the heritage of Greece and Rome by the literature of the North – Icelandic sagas in general and his own Sigurd the Volsung above all?  Well, perhaps, but he also translated Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, so presumably his attitude to his own public school-Oxbridge classicist formation was more conflictual than we often allow.  A similar ambivalence can perhaps be felt in the February 1877 letter in which he refuses to allow his name to go forward for the chair of poetry at Oxford: for all the plausible reasons he eventually offers James Thursfield for saying no, he also has to admit that he ‘found it hard to make up my mind what was right to do’. 

As a leftwing supporter of Brexit, I don’t want us throwing out the baby of our European intellectual heritage with the bathwater of that repulsive neo-liberal economic engine, the European Union, so if Alice Oswald can one day deliver on her ‘Homer fanaticism’ at Oxford, I shall be very glad, and will dust down my Morris classical translations and reread them for the occasion too.

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

And Alice Oswald does now have the post: