This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Even Oxford poetry professors compete poetically

Some "poetry purists" claim that slam cheapens the art form because poetry shouldn't be about competition. However, competition abounds in the poetry scene, even at academic institutions such as Oxford University. Professors compete for position and tenure with the same intensity as any down and dirty poetry slam.

So the next time someone complains that poetry shouldn't be about competition, politely ask how their college poetry professor, or any poet with title from teacher to laureate earned that title.

Weapons drawn, 'codgers' quartered: race to be Oxford poetry professor gets serious
Eleven candidates argue their suitability for August academic role ahead of start of voting this week

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 322 members in his campaigning Facebook group, compared with Hill's 271.

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.

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