Non-poet versed in Dylan wows Oxford

May 14, 2004

Controversy was in the air at Oxford this week as the university looked set to appoint a non-poet famous for his writings on Bob Dylan as its next professor of poetry.

Literary critic Christopher Ricks, professor of English at Boston University, is the odds-on favourite in a five-luminary race for the position that will be decided when past and present Oxford academics and students place their votes on Saturday.

With nominations from more than 50 of Oxford's staff and alumni - including English faculty members, nine heads of colleges, and former vice-chancellor Sir Peter North - bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering odds of 2/1 on Professor Ricks getting the job.

Second in the running at 5/2 is Canadian poet Anne Carson, who won the T.

S. Elliot prize for poetry last year. Queen's gold medal for poetry winner Peter Porter, backed by 20 nominations including poet laureate Andrew Motion, comes in at 4/1, while poet and broadcaster Ian MacMillan shares odds of 5/1 with Byzantine history student and former Oxford Union president Mark Walker.

Whoever is appointed will succeed poet and academic Paul Muldoon, who completes his five-year term at the end of September.

Professor Ricks is known as a champion of English poets including Milton, Tennyson and A. E. Housman, and has edited anthologies including The Oxford Book of English Verse . More recently, his works have included an examination of the lyrics of Bob Dylan in Dylan's Visions of Sins .

Christopher Butler, professor of English language and literature at Oxford, said he was backing Professor Ricks because of his "quite exceptional ability to get into a poem".

Helen Cooper, also professor of English language and literature at the university, said that, as a lecturer and critic, Professor Ricks could "bring something to poetry that even a poet cannot".

But Jane Griffiths, fellow in English at St Edmund Hall, who nominated Peter Porter, said she thought it would be "disappointing" not to have a poet in the post.

"A poet is likely to have a more insider view of what other poets are doing," she said.

Jo Crawley Quinn, lecturer in ancient history, nominated Anne Carson because "she would be a real asset to Oxford in terms of the traditional importance of the professorship". She added: "It would be a real shame to break that by having a critic rather than a poet in the post."

The professor of poetry receives a modest stipend of £5,4 a year and is responsible, among other things, for giving a public lecture each term.

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