Wole Soyinka, Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry? It does have a lovely ring to it.

[The following article was culled from SaharaReporters.com AND The Guardian Newspaper; the guardian.com]

“The thumbnail sketches of three of the candidates in the election for Oxford’s professor of poetry (The week in books, Review, 30 May) manages in the case of Wole Soyinka not once to mention that the 1986 Nobel laureate is a poet, author of eight collections, nine if his Selected Poems are counted in.

Recently the 17 stanzas of his poem Migrant have been carved into 17 headstones, one per headstone, and placed (March 2015) in the monument in the Sicilian town of Etna built to the memory of all migrants who have perished and will perish at sea. It commemorates two girls, two women, and 13 men, Syrians and Nigerians, among 300 who drowned off the coast of Lampedusa in May 2013, the first of many nameless, but remembered always in Soyinka’s timely and timeless words.

Soyinka would have been an exceptional candidate in any of the Oxford poetry elections since 1966 (the Robert Lowell-Edmund Blunden contest) and remains a poet who acts and writes with unwavering courage and humanity. All Oxonians, town as well as gown, and many, many more people beyond Oxford, would benefit immeasurably from his dynamic and generative presence (“a restless bolt of energy”) as successor to Geoffrey Hill.” ~ Bruce Ross-Smith, Oxford

Numerous literary luminaries, major intellectuals and cultural figures backing Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s nomination as the next Professor of Poetry at Oxford University have intensified their drive for votes. Professor Wole Soyinka today

All graduates from Oxford as well as current students are eligible to vote for the five candidates who have been nominated for the highly prestigious position. Apart from Soyinka, the other candidates are Simon Armitage, Ian Gregson, Seán Haldane and A.E. Stallings.

“We believe that Soyinka is the most distinguished candidate by far,” one of the Nobel laureate’s champions told our correspondent from Oxford. “With the deadline for registration [to vote] coming up on June 8, we want as many voters as possible to know what a marvelous thing it would be to elect Mr. Soyinka,” he added.

Lucy Newlyn, a poet and professor at Oxford who is Soyinka’s official representative for the post, told SaharaReporters that those who intend to vote must register online by June 8, 2015. She urged anyone with an Oxford degree, or who is a member of congregation, to register at: www.votebyinternet.com/oxfordpoetry15

Oxford University is expected to announce the result of this year’s vote June 19, 2015.

The Oxford Professor of Poetry is required to deliver three public lectures during his or her tenure. Geoffrey Hill is the current occupant of the professorship, but his term will end as soon as a new poet is elected. Past occupants of the grand post include Seamus Heaney, Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Robert Graves.

After Soyinka was nominated for the post, he received endorsements from major poets, novelists, and intellectuals from within Oxford and around the globe. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is also a poet, described Soyinka as “a massive cultural presence,” adding, “it would be wonderful if Oxford could provide him with a platform to speak in this way.”

Another major British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, called on Oxford voters to “honor one of the world’s greatest living writers. In times like these when we are spending so much energy looking inwards and being nationalistic, Wole Soyinka will help us reconnect with the world and be more outward looking.” In his statement of support, writer Ben Okri said Soyinka’s “presence would profoundly enrich the poetic and intellectual life of the university,” adding that the Nobel laureate is “a genuine legend of contemporary literature.”

An Oxford don, Shami Chakrabarti, wrote: “His shining language of resistance has never dimmed and his sense of justice never faltered. Wole Soyinka’s appointment would bring honour to the University of Oxford.”

Robert Macfarlane praised Soyinka as “a giant of modern literature—and a man whose life and writing has proved how vitally poetry matters.” Former US poet laureate Rita Dove echoed the sentiment, describing Soyinka as “a true man of world letters.” She urged Oxford not to “forego this unique opportunity to be honored by Wole Soyinka’s physical presence and poetic wisdom.”

Soyinka, who has garnered 149 nominations, recently told the Guardian newspaper in the UK that he took his candidacy seriously and would be able to meet all the obligations of the esteemed professorship if elected. His backers have created a Facebook page that contains instructions for registration and voting, his recorded reading, and statements by numerous nominators and endorsers. The link to the Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/soyinkaforoxford?notif_t=page_invite_accepted.

One thought on “Wole Soyinka, Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry? It does have a lovely ring to it.

  1. Boris Pasternak ends one of his later poems, ‘Autumn’, with these lines : “And courage is the only root of beauty,/And it is this that draws us each to each.” (translation by Henry Kamen, 1962) Wole Soyinka, who almost certainly knows these lines, today,as always, understands what Pasternak (and what an Oxford professor of poetry Pasternak might have been!) means here by courage and an unwavering commitment to the deepest humane relationships which must hold people together. Soyinka’s autumn will begin on the first day of Oxford’s Michaelmas term, when he succeeds Geoffrey Hill as Oxford professor of poetry.


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