Stephen Moss, one of eleven candidates for Professor Of Poetry at Oxford University, has given TNB the following interview, just two days before voting begins on 21 May.

Moss is the Guardian‘s candidate for the P O P, and he’s a regular writer there.  A year ago, he explained to Guardian readers why he is standing for the Oxford poetry job, and in the article you can read or hear him read some of his poems:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/05/oxford-poetry-job-ruth-padel

Voting for the P O P closes 18 June.  The winner will assume duties in the autumn, primarily of delivering 15 lectures at Oxford University.

Last year, Derek Walcott, the front-runner, bowed out because the campaign had turned ugly. Ruth Padel won the election, but resigned after a few days, having admitted to alerting newspaper journalists about Walcott’s possible sexual misconduct with students.

The election campaign’s turmoil resulted in two new election procedures:  electronic voting, and voting for a month rather than a day. Previously, voters (only Oxford graduates who attended graduation) had to be present at Oxford to vote, and they had to wear their Oxford gowns.

Stephen Moss answers my questions in the following email interview:

1) Are you running for the position so that people will call you POP?


Yes, I have to admit the title does appeal. Even poets have ego.


2) What kinds of arguments are you having with the other candidates?

So far, all very good-humoured. Only slight disagreement was with Roger Lewis. I asked him to spread sexual innuendos about me to generate some publicity, but to my surprise he said no.

3) You’ve said that you will give the POP stipend to “needy poets and writers, and to good literary causes” as well as establish a yearly two-week poetry festival in Oxford (not Oxfam) and buy anyone who votes for you a drink. How will they prove that they’ve voted for you—–or is that a minor issue?

I will of course trust them. I’m assuming my vote will be so small, the round will not be too expensive.

4) When you deliver your 15 lectures (not all on the same day, we hope), will you be accompanying yourself on the lyre?

No, I will employ the London Philharmonic.

5) Will you need an assistant POP?

No, I want it to be completely dictatorial.


6) Would you recommend the meals at any of the colleges at Oxford U?

I was at Balliol in the mid-1970s and the foods was fine: spag bol for about 31p, I seem to recall, and nice desserts for 12p. I got very fat, and still am a bit on the puddingy side.

7) Which of the other candidates has the most attractive haircut?

An important question. I have not looked closely, but like the severity of Geoffrey Hill’s style.

8) Which previous POP most intrigues you?

I like Auden’s lines – the lines on his face, I mean. His poetry I can take or leave.

9) Are you wearing a sandwich board?

Not at the moment. Conventional jeans and short-sleeved summer shirt.

10) Would you live in/at Oxford or commute?

I would have a suite at the Randolph. I will be in Oxford on 3 June for an event at the Phoenix Picture House featuring other candidates (starts 8pm) and will be checking in then, fully expecting to be in residence for five years. Thank you so much for your interest and support.

Yours in poetry, SM

TAGS: , , , , , , , , ,

JUDY PRINCE, a retired college teacher and union activist, now lives half the year in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other half in Darlington, UK.  She has published articles in the L.A. Times and the Virginian-Pilot, and was a Chicago Dramatists Short Plays Competition finalist.   She is now at work on a play about Shakespeare the woman, and recently launched Frisky Moll Press with the poetry pamphlets of Robin Hamilton (Anacreon translations) and Patrick McManus (On The Dig).   Her own poetry pamphlets have been published by Phantom Rooster Press (2006 and 2009). Prince's work is included in the first James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology (Red Squirrel Press, UK, 2010). Her Poems2 is reviewed in SPHINX 12, HappenStance Press .

63 responses to “INTERVIEW: Stephen Moss, candidate for Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    I can’t read this right now on account of some ➷➹➸➷➾↵ craziness right now.
    I’ll read later, promise!

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Hi Judy, I’m back.
    I couldn’t make your link read out loud, however, the picture of Stephen Moss is very poet-like, so I’m going to believe you that this is a real thing.
    At first, I thought his answers were so funny and cool and non-stodgy that I thought you made him and this up.
    I would vote for him too, if I could, since he is the first non-stodgy poet that is up for a great title that I know of.
    There are some great poets on TNB, but they aren’t up for great titles at the moment, I don’t think.
    He has my virtual vote.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Irene, I just checked the audio on the link, and it was fine after I ramped up the volume arrow.

      Yes, the interview—-and Stephen Moss—-are the real thing; I didn’t make him or his answers up. And he’s amongst a group of mostly non-stodgy candidates (though I think his non-stodginess is wittiest).

    • Judy Prince says:

      Irene, you can read the non-stodgy and stodgy candidates’ brief statements here at the Oxford University website, by clicking on their names: http://www.ox.ac.uk/about_the_university/oxford_people/professor_of_poetry/nominees/statements.html#wrapper

      They’re a fascinating group advocating and emphasising diversity—-from VizPo (visual poetry); to poetry’s musicality or performance or anti-academicist leanings; to a South African who speaks Zulu, Afrikaan and Italian; and one who has written a biography about film actor Peter Sellers.

      • Irene Zion says:

        See, now, Judy?
        This is why you have to watch carefully when your husband uses your computer cause he’s too lazy to bring his own when you go away.
        I finally figured out what was wrong.
        He muted my computer.
        It is very hard to hear a poem read while the computer is on mute.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Ah, but Irene, doubtless there’ve been many time that Victor has helped you with your computer! Doubtless that doesn’t lessen your frustration at trying to hear a poem being read while the computer’s speakers are on mute.

          If you look around just a bit more I’m sure you’ll find that Victor Instructions Manual that came with Victor to your wedding. It might be in his formal ties drawer. Who would think to look there?

        • Irene Zion says:


          God as my witness, Victor has never helped me with my computer. He is as close to a Luddite as you can get and not be Amish.

          Victor stopped wearing ties when he retired 10 years ago. If the Victor Instructions Manual was in with them, I’m in deep do-do.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hmm….calls for Deep Thinking, Irene. Luddite with no Victor Instructions Manual and doesn’t wear ties. Mr Marvelous! Think about it, which you can’t obviously do objectively: Victor’s very being defies categorisation (even Luddite doesn’t fit, since he designs and installs glass eyeballs into people’s eye sockets).

          Oh you fortunate woman. Just for my own edification, did you come with an Irene Instructions Manual?

  3. Judy Prince says:

    Irene, “➷➹➸➷➾↵ craziness” definitely trumps reading! (How did you get those gorjus arrows?)

    BTW, does the ➷➹➸➷➾↵ craziness have to do with Slade’s magic thought-power or Anon’s urge to kill sweet little deer—–or Richard’s bewitching novel *The God Particle*? Those 3 dudes could have a way popular vid going on if they weren’t so busy meeting mortgage payments. Pore t’ings.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Although I totally agree with what you say about the esteemed trio of Slade, Anon and Richard, I’m afraid that my craziness is entirely internal.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Vixen! Why do you tempt me with more luscious symbols?! Snowmen, scissors, finger-pointers……how can I get them? I’d especially like to produce the sign for the English pound (equivalent to USA dollar).

        And oh YEAH—-the SAR trio! But, natch, we two could make a nice duo, Irene, dontcha t’ink? Hmmmmm…….and here’s an Uche caterpillar to crawl toward Aaron’s nightmare-producing spider——-:P;;;;;;

        • Irene Zion says:


          What’s the SAR trio?

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          @Irene: Slade, myself and Richard, I believe. Although I immediately thought of search and rescue when I saw your contextually-isolated comment in the Recent list.

          @Judy: There appears to be some misunderstanding. There’s not really much meat on little deer, which is why I prefer big mulies – beefier all around. And they aren’t really sweet, per se, although I’m sure I could do something clever with a proper marinade. They’re generally sort of sage-y on their own (understandable, given their occasional diet of, well, sage brush) but they are still damned yummy….

        • Judy Prince says:

          Not only a vixen, but a sly one, as well. You used a pound sign—–and you didnae tell me, one half of our duo, how you procured it and dumped it into the text.

          I’m feeling distinctly hurt. ;-(

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oops, while I was feeling distinctly hurt, Irene, I forgot to tell you that the SAR trio is our treasured jokey threesome: Slade, Anon, and Richard.


          You and me are the jokey duo.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Anon, will you take me on a fox hunt?

          OK, dear Rodent tells me they’re horrid class-clenching, boring, murderous events. Well, that’s decided, then. It’s just that I wanted to hear the beagles howling. I love beagles.

          Back to your killing sweet little deer, Anon. I certainly meant “little” as an endeering term, natch. Jeez. Nevertheless, and despite my knowing that it’s a dog eat dog (sorry, Ancel) world out there cliche thingie—–how can you put a shot thru a deer’s heart and not weep for it?

          In my most recent episode-watching of BBC’s “All Creatures Great and Small”, one of the veterinarians remarked to the other about their boss: “He’s a veterinarian first, and a sportsman second.” Presumably, he was defending his boss’s hunting as a reasonable and healthy thing to do, as well as prioritising his boss’s most essential attribute of trying to keep animals alive and healthy. ‘Twas a fascinating subject thread. One of the vets nursed a car-hit fox back to health, was told by the other vet that the fox was not domesticated and therefore less able to make it in the wild the longer he was cared for in the house. Soon the guy let the fox out into the wild, then its “owner” came looking for the fox. They managed to find it—-with a new foxy heh heh mate—–and the owner determined that the fox was gonna do just fine.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I don’t weep for deer but I do thank them. And I don’t have time to get into all the absurd semantics but I don’t consider killing something you don’t plan on eating to be “hunting” – gets me a little grumbly, in fact. I’m not big on political correctness and the abomination it’s made of plain speaking but that goes as much for “hunting” when you just mean killing as it does for “sanitation engineer” instead of janitor and “insert-hyphen-here-American” for people without dual citizenship with another country.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Anon, I had thought you meant “hunting” as in killing an animal but not intending it as food. That’s the thing I got from your Shuffle post, p’raps bcuz you were describing walking out back of the office building past the barbed wire where the deer were…..and it seemed connected to the urge to kill an animal, not kill it for food.

          That whole fox hunt thing is beyond weird. All these people on galloping horses and dozens of howling beagles and probably they had guys beating the bushes to keep the fox from hiding—–and here’s the pitiful fox all alone. Doesn’t, even if considered a “game”, seem like a fair contest. Not like the tilts or horse-racings. But, then, there was Queen Elizabeth I who adored bear-baitings.

          When the UK outlawed fox hunting, many of the experts of that trade came here, esp to the southern states. Now that there’s a Conservative government on top of the political heap in the UK, there’s talk of new legislation to legitimise fox hunting once again.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Reading your reply above is the closest I have come to being horrified since coming to this site. I didn’t think to be explicit in my post because it never crossed my mind that it might be construed that way! No, no, no, no. You don’t kill an animal unless it’s for food, in defense (and I’ll include clearing out diseased rodent colonies with that) or through unavoidable accident. Or at least I don’t nor will my kids.

          There is no game in killing. If you think so, I’d suggest you try it with a target that shoots back and see how you feel about it in the time you’ve got left. If you just want to murder something, well… go ahead, I suppose, if I can’t stop you. But at least be honest about what it is that you’re doing.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Glad to hear that, Anon! Often, I’ve wanted to *be able* to hunt animals and birds for food, but not wanted to bad enough to handle firearms. And there’s that whole messy thing about skinning and gutting the creature you’ve killed. ick.

          I could compromise by “shuggling” fishies. It’s a Scottish term for actually reaching into the lake or ocean and tickling the underside of a fish, then you’ve got it. Catching fish in the usual traditional ways and then chopping their heads off seems somehow less brutal and bloody than killing other animals. Its understandable that so many young people choose to be vegetarians; it just seems kinder. That said, I’d love to have a nice rare juicy roasted leg of lamb with a glass of Petite Sirah, David Bruce Winery, 2005. But all I can get is 2004 and 2003.

  4. A good sexual scandal brings out the voters.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Jeffrey, it would seem to be true, but in the last election (resulting in Ruth Padel’s win), more than 50 voters (who had to be present at Oxford on the one voting day) chose to spoil their ballots, presumably in protest over Walcott’s bowing out of the campaign because of the smear attacks against him.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    ‘Still a bit on the puddingly side’
    What a charming description!

  6. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Yo yo yo! The reason SM wants in is so he can sing it like Notorious B.I.G.

    “I live it when you coll me Big POPpa! (Wave your hands in the air if you’se a true player)”

    And you know, I can’t say I blame him one teensy bit.

    Nice one, J00dy. 🙂

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Eh. O’s look almost like o’s in this font. We need the diagonal slash through them.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Hmmmm……Uche, you may be right. Last year Stephen Moss went up to the Edinburgh Festival and got himself hired as a bit actor, writing a Guardian piece about it with lots of piccies. He’s got a bit of the ‘George Plimpton’ in him. If he should happen not to win the P O P election, I think he’ll land a first-rate job at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

  7. Uche Ogbuji says:

    And BTW for anyone who is curious about the UTTER MADNESS of this election, lots of fun dish here:


    If the P.O.P. election doesn’t get its own reality TV series by the June ballot, someone is surely sound asleep behind the producer’s chair.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Ah—-if only it would play out that wildly and widely, Uche! The cast of characters has all the potential volatile drama of “normal” poets in their habitats of peck, preen, squabble, scribble and squawk.

      Honestly, if the 11 poets were video’ed at Oxford the week before the voting closes—-as they compare notes in local pubs, do open mic at “slams”, or schmooze with their followers and fans—–wot an unrivalled theatrical event it would be!

  8. Aaron Dietz says:

    Just here to double Irene’s comment–witty as insanity! And such good short answers. I mean, I can be witty sometimes but it’s like I have to edit that down from three or four pages of prose to get that one or two lines of wit. Humbled.

    And also–nice interview!

    • Judy Prince says:

      Spider Man! I appreciate your generous words so much! Answer of course is that I was “on deadline” (self-imposed) and morphed into journalist mode.

      And on a tenuously related issue: Ernest Hemingway’s simple, straightforward prose style has been attributed to nothing more than his stint at newspaper writing.

      Now orf to read your new piece, Aaron—–but only if it’s under 500 words! 😉

      • Aaron Dietz says:

        LOVE Hemingway’s simple prose. A church was a church. Sometimes he went overboard describing the seasons, but you know–those were the times.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Aaron, in some significant ways, Hemingway was the ultimate pragmatist.

          He was trying to make enough money to impress and convince Zelda to marry him, so he hunkered down and wrote memoirish fiction in the tone and style he’d been used to in newspaper writing: unemotional, simple, straightforward. Despite what he’s best known for, the macho war stories, I find most of his compelling work that which describes what his female partners saw, felt or did. It’s like they were the real fodder for his works. Women women women…. Which makes me wonder what his mother was like.

        • Brad Listi says:

          Hemingway’s mother dressed him like a girl when he was a young child. Little Lord Fauntleroy and then some. He hated her. Like, really hated her. They had an extremely complicated relationship, and I think he blamed her for his father’s suicide. In fact, there is a quote out there from someone, a Hemingway pal. Something along the lines of, “Ernest Hemingway was the only person I ever knew who really, truly hated his mother.” How true that is is anybody’s best guess. I’m sure he loved her deep down, in some way. But yeah. Hemingway’s interest in cross-dressing and role-playing, and all of his macho posturing. Very interesting. And to me, sort of annoying. And funny.

        • Judy Prince says:

          @ Aaron I’d conflated Hemingway with Fitzgerald in saying H had wanted to make money to attract “Zelda”. It was Fitzgerald who revised his rejected novel after Zelda had broken up with him, got the novel accepted, and she married him. It was also Fitzgerald whose previous job copy-writing at an ad agency, influenced his simple, direct prose.

          Yet, Hemingway’s journalist experience led him to the sparer prose he chose.

          @ Brad – wow, yeah, Hemingway had a big time prob with mom. Apparently his mother wore the boots in the family, and he felt that his dad did her bidding. She described him as the only one of the children who was like her; hence, p’raps, the contest of wills throughout his life in dominating or being dominated by a partner.

          The first woman he fell in love with was 7 years older than he was, the second two women (one, his first wife Hadley) were also 7 years older than him. He seemed to be seeking “mom” and apparently found her in Martha Gelhorn (third wife) who wouldn’t put up with his macho posturing, didn’t think he was the “hero” he made himself out to be, and left him. He’d begun, by that time, calling himself “Papa” and seeking a daughter instead of a mom, whom he found in his last (and only younger than he was) wife, Mary, who was still wed to him when he died.

          I think what I love most about the males is their not “faking” what they feel is masculinity. I understand it, but it turns me off, quite frankly, because it’s phoney and silly, false and actually deceitful. In other words, I agree, Brad, that all the posturing is annoying and funny. But I also think it’s a tremendous waste of energy and lives and relationships. I love the fakey men as well as the “comfortable in their own skin” men, though. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, as folks always say.

          BTW, I loved your vid interview with your mother!!!!! She’s quite cool, you know, not to mention beautiful! I think I hate her. Don’t tell her that!

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Judy–loved Hemingway the most when it was the more normal, less masculine-oriented stuff–like The Sun Also Rises (just a bunch of people sitting around drinking, most of the time).

          I’m glad you elaborated on Fitzgerald, because I was a tad confused and assumed I really must not have paid attention to Hemingway history. Bonus! I’m learning stuff and reinforcing learning. Yay!

        • Judy Prince says:

          And I learned, too, Aaron, from my conflating the two writers, just how similar they were regarding their writing influences (ad copy, Fitzgerald and newspaper writing, Hemingway) and their distinctly difficult relationships with females.

          When I lived in Chicago, I went to nearby (north of the city) Oak Park and saw the Hemingway family home where he grew up, and I’ve read of Fitzgerald’s family home, as well.

          Both men were raised very much middle class (I would say “upper” middle class). Hemingway first achieved wealth through his first wife, Hadley’s, family fortune which she inherited not too long after they’d married. He of course became wealthy in his own right, later. And Fitzgerald wooed and won Zelda who had a higher socio-economic status, immediately establishing himself as a serious literary presence—–but the relationship between them went to hell in a handbasket.

          I’d better watch out because now I’m getting thought-interference about Ted Hughes and his wife Sylvia Plath…..and his next wife who also killed herself. Mind-wander…..it’s what happens when you’re not getting enuff sleep. Or not getting a lunch!

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          I trust you’ve gotten lunch. And I hope you get sleep soon. But don’t let that stop you from pointing out interesting literary correlations.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You’re too kind, Aaron. After those spider jokes, too. Now I feel sooo bad. 😉

          Lunch did the trick, but other stuff, like life, got in the way of a nap.

          Now I’m simply grinning at Anon and Hugh and Jordan’s comments about sheep and trips with kids (not goat children, but oh you know).

          Time for dinner! Then an episode in the 6th series of the BBC’s “All Creatures Great and Small”——lotsa sheep portrayed…..and dogs, too.

          But it’s after 10 at night! Time for real sleep. Tomorrow’s a nother day, oh King of the blanket (it wasn’t a blanket, though; I’ll remember the proper word in the morning)

        • Judy Prince says:

          Afghan, Aaron—-you’re the King of The Afghan. I finally remembered.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Yes. The Royal Afghan. May it never rest on icy sidewalk again.

  9. reno says:

    ha! this man has some great answers. auden’s wrinkles? geez. does this man have no heart! i love it.

    Q number 7 is a keeper.

    fun, fun. thanks, judy. i like you.

    stanzas and bleu cheese,

    • Judy Prince says:

      reno!!! Glad ya love my interviewee guy’s answers. We did this stuff off the cuff and Really Really fast, like it was some kinda blitzy dream. I was used to his writing style and tone from lots of Guardian articles; and he was used to my comments about them. I love journalists! Quick reaction time, no screwing around (of the “professional” variety), just see an opp and get to it, get it in print. YEAH!

      And, reno, I like you too. just plain do.

      you always make me hongry, too!

      bleu cheese bacon burger, hot fudge sundae in an old fashioned curvy glass


  10. Jordan Ancel says:

    Judy, great interview. I really like his humor and his charm.

    I read the article, and think that it’s a terrific idea to use the stipend as a kind of scholarship.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Delighted you liked it the interview, Jordan! Stephen Moss is exactly as you say. His proposal to give the stipend money to students who need it, as well as establish a 2-week poetry festival in Oxford are practical, creativity-building gems.

  11. Funny questions. Well done.

    My favourite interview question of all time was posed to Hunter S. Thompson by a fairly young, inexperienced journalist. He asked, “Are you Keyser Söze?” Thompson – who normally treated journalists like shit – commended the kid on the best question he’d ever been asked.

    • Judy Prince says:

      I’m truly delighted that you enjoyed the interview, David.

      “Are you Keyser Soze?”—-that’s hilarious!!!

      I’ll be shaking my head about that one for a loooong time.

      • Just keep it in mind next time you interview someone. Although you got the important one – asking about candidate haircuts. That’s what kept sinking John McCain.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I could go back and edit in that “Are you Keyser Soze?” for this interview, David. Stephen would no doubt love the question.

          I don’t remember John McCain’s hair—-but he must have had some or he couldnae run for the presidency. Hair and elections—-yes, the major factor in voters’ decisions.

          Haircuts……and sweating, as well—-we just love to watch a politician sweat.

          Given the frustrating uniformity of men’s clothes, there’s little we can determine about their clothing choices as indices of their personalities. Same thing with men’s haircuts. However, a pair of googly eyes or a moustache—–Very Suspicious and probably indicative of instability or rash behaviours.

          Women politicians have to have a kind of hair helmet and it can’t be too long or too short (too long=too sexy, too short=questionable sexual orientation). Hillary Clinton changed her hairstyle a few times during her run against Barack Obama for the presidency, and her changes seemed to reflect her frequent personality shifts, p’raps bcuz of her thinking she should act differently than she ordinarily would act.

        • Politicians are all indistinguishable to me. They all wear suits, have short hair, talk shit… I’d be more easily swayed by a candidate with a mohawk and a cape.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’m just seriously thinking about the politician with a mohawk and a cape, David. I hadn’t thought I’d be so judgemental, but yes I am. I even thought Dean had lost the election the instant he yelled; and indeed he had; he never recovered the voters’ enthusiastic support.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, electoral throat-slitting? Awesome. Academic in-fighting is the viciousest you can get without producing a switchblade.

    • Judy Prince says:

      You know, Simon, I’m inclined to agree with you about in-fighting academics. It’s a scary thing to be verbally eviscerated. On the other hand, there’s an almost impenetrable screen of indecisiveness to academics. Previous to President Obama, I used to despair that Democrats were like a bunch of professors—-unable to agree on anything, guilt-guided, and lacking the will to DO something.

  13. robin.hamilton[email protected] says:

    Hey Srephen, wby dintl you do a face up against the Wiblbeldon Poet?


  14. universitas pasundan…

    […]Judy Prince | INTERVIEW: Stephen Moss, candidate for Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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