Just weeks after Simon Armitage was named the UK’s next poet laureate, the contest for the country’s second most important role in poetry has begun. Voting has opened for Oxford University’s next professor of poetry, with two of the country’s best known practitioners, Alice Oswald and Andrew McMillan, both in the running.
Candidates for the four-year professorship, which involves giving a public lecture every term and is currently held by Armitage, must be nominated by at least 50 Oxford graduates. Oswald, the winner of the TS Eliot, Costa and Griffin prizes, was backed by the most supporters, with 167 throwing their weight behind her, including former poet laureate Andrew Motion, novelist Mark Haddon and biographer and academic Hermione Lee.
Yorkshire poet McMillan, whose debut Physical celebrated the male body and won him the Guardian first book award as well as a host of nominations for other major prizes, counts 84 supporters, while the British-Canadian poet Todd Swift has 60.
Each contender now has until 20 June to canvas Oxford graduates for their votes. Their opening sallies will be made on Thursday, as all three publish statements staking their claim on a role that was inaugurated in 1708, and has been held by Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Robert Graves.