Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wasserstein, Bernard. "Oxford's Poetry Revolution." PROSPECT MAGAZINE 142 (January 2008).

Occasionally an event, in itself trivial, captures the essence of a historical moment: the Boston tea party, the first performance of The Rite of Spring, the incarceration of Paris Hilton. In England, such episodes often take place in Oxford: John Henry Newman’s passage from Anglicanism to Rome in the 1840s; the king and country debate at the Union in 1933; the dons’ rejection of Margaret Thatcher for an honorary degree in 1985. The non-election of Yevgeny Yevtushenko as professor of poetry in Oxford in 1968 was one such incident that somehow fused the cultural switchboard of its time. As I played a minor part in stage managing this mixture of opera buffo and grand guignol, it falls to me to act as—an admittedly prejudiced—recording angel. Yevtushenko’s candidacy was my idea. A history undergraduate at the time, I had read a little of his poetry in translation and also his Precocious Autobiography. He struck me as a raw, individualist voice speaking boldly from within the confines of a conformist society. Some of the lines buzzed in my head. But I confess that my main motive for initiating his candidacy was political, though at the time I strenuously denied it to my fellow campaigners, to the press—and to myself. . . . Read the rest here:

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