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25 June 2010

Words in Pictures: Oxford Professor of Poetry

Geoffrey Hill's appointment this week offers a chance to look back over the work of his predecessors

By Alexandra Coghlan

This week’s appointment of Geoffrey Hill as the 44th Oxford Professor of Poetry is the happy ending that has eluded this saga – more compelling than any poetic epic – for almost a year.

Until it made the headlines last year for all the wrong reasons, the position was not one that provoked much public debate. Yet, second only to the Laureate in the hierarchy of UK poetry appointments, Oxford’s Professor of Poetry is a role that has been occupied by some of the great critics and poets of our nation.

Matthew Arnold, Cecil Day Lewis, W H Auden have all served in the post, whose 5 year term requires the delivery of three lectures each year, followed more recently by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Christopher Ricks.

Following the scandal surrounding Ruth Padel’s 2009 appointment (followed by her resignation nine days later), and the smearing of fellow nominee Derek Walcott – which did as much to discredit the antiquated selection procedure as the poets themselves – the appointment of Geoffrey Hill marks a welcome return to business as usual.

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To celebrate, we’ve drawn together videos and recordings of the most recent appointees – Paul Muldoon, James Fenton, Christopher Ricks – as well as rare footage of Hill himself. Enjoy a reading of Fenton’s Betjeman-esque “In Paris With You”, see Ricks and Muldoon discussing poetry, and watch Hill reciting “The Storm”.