Nearly a month ago, while noting that The Observer’s literary editor said that his paper was supporting Clive James for Oxford Professor of Poetry, I remarked that, while James would not have been “among my choices of candidate the first time around”, I could “see that this time around he’s a very good one.”
It is rumoured that my near-contemporary and fellow-countryman, the Irish poet and scholar, Bernard O’Donoghue, now favours James for the post
“I’d like Clive James” the poet is reported as saying. “He’s a big name and he lectures very well. This post now needs a big name.” I’d be none too certain that I’d want to see James get the post because he’s a “big name”, but I do think that the fact that “he lectures very well” is something that is taken into account as a qualification.
If anybody has any doubt about just how well James talks about poetry, then they should be be on the lookout for the July issue of Poetry in which he discusses, among other topics, James Merrill, free versus formal verse, some of the things make poems last, and the work of the late Michael Donaghy, to whose simultaneously published The Shape of the Dance: Essays, Interviews and Digressions and Collected Poems, (Picador) he recently contributed a seven-page introduction which did for Donaghy what The Guardian called the “useful job of writing him back into the story of recent American poetry”.