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Nigerian writer and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka is facing criticism over his decision to campaign for the position of poetry professor at Oxford University.
The prominent writer, who has written several books, collections of poetry and essays one of which won him the Nobel Prize in 1986, was dubbed ‘too old and grand’ by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg who had initially offered his support to Soyinka. He now claims that Soyinka would probably not even bother to come to Oxford if he won the coveted position.
Soyinka, who has been backed by several Oxford alumnus as well as several professors at the esteemed university, hit out against Bragg’s unfair accusations.
“How curious that anyone would even speculate that I would allow busy and committed people – friends, colleagues and total strangers – to waste their time nominating and campaigning on my behalf for such a prestigious position if I were not serious about contesting,” he told the Guardian.
Competing against other well-known poets, including Simon Armitage, Soyinka received the 149 nominations from various Oxford alumnus ahead of the official voting set to take place later this month.
Soyinka’s personal representative for the campaign, Lucy Newlyn, a poet and professor of English at the university, also stood up for Soyinka, who was also criticised for not submitting a statement of intent.
“Geoffrey Hill, the current professor of poetry, did not submit a statement,” Newlyn said. “He, like Soyinka, is over 80, and his tenure has been a great success.
“Soyinka is a candidate of absolutely outstanding distinction, energy and enthusiasm. If elected, he will be totally committed to the post. Candidates are permitted to submit statements if they wish, but this is entirely optional.”
The Professor of Poetry position at Oxford is, in the world of poetry, second only to the position of Poet Laureate. Previous proffessors include Robert Graves, Seamus Heaney and W.H Auden. The person allocated the position, will be required to give a lecture on poetry at least 3 times a year.
In his own statement of intent, competing poet, Simon Armitage wrote that if he was given the position, he will use it to address the issues affecting poetry in the 21st century, suggesting the future of the beautiful and once revered art form, is slowly fading into obscurity.
If he wins, he intends “to discuss the situation of poetry and poets in the 21st century, to address the obstacles and opportunities brought about by changes in education, changes in reading habits, the internet, poetry’s decreasing ‘market share’, poetry’s relationship with the civilian world and the (alleged) long, lingering death of the book”.
Previous campaigns for Oxford’s professor of poetry have also been littered with controversy. In 2009, the first woman to be elected for position, Ruth Padel, resigned before taking the position, following a heated rivalry between her and her rival Derek Walcott and in which allegations of sexual harassment were made. Walcott also stood down during his campaign.
The winner of the position will be announced on June 19th.