Fellows Bernard O’Donoghue and Jane Griffiths were joined by alumni Hilary Davies (Modern Languages, 1974), Grevel Lindop (English, 1966), Michael Schmidt (English, 1967) and Rowan Williams (Theology, 1972) for a wonderful evening of poetry readings attended by more than 100 Wadham alumni.
Listen to poems, selected and read by their authors, here.
Michael Schmidt preceded his readings by recounting a tale of former Warden Sir Maurice Bowra moving out of his lodgings, throwing open a window to ask: “Do you like Conrad, Schmidt?”. He then proceeded to give Michael all of his Conrad first editions.
Michael added that his Wadham friend Grevel “was quite instrumental in the founding of Carcanet”, the independent literary publisher created by Michael. Michael’s readings comprised two poems composed when at Wadham, two short-line poems, ‘Sisera’ and ‘Choice’, and two more recent poems.
Rowan commented that he would not read his poems from his Wadham days, describing them as “pretty awful”. Selecting his unpublished poems written over the last twelve months he began by reading a poem for Easter Sunday, 2020. His choice of poems included one prompted by the work of artist Antony Gormley and a poem ‘Post Vax’ written to mark him receiving his COVID vaccinations and set in the Splott community centre in Cardiff.
Hilary’s poetry choices gave an incredible sense of place, beginning with ‘Beachy Head’, a poem about her parents who she said “were first to open my mind to the world of language and the imagination.” She continued with poems about a youthful journey across the English Channel in her poem ‘Oh to be Young’, and read poems about Abney Park in London and the Lee Valley.
Grevel told the audience that he arrived at Wadham to read English on his 18th birthday, adding “and Wadham changed my life.” Grevel’s readings began with “For Our Lady of Guadalupe”, a basilica on the outskirts of Mexico City. He presented a hawk’s-eye view of the Battle of Maldon with his poem “The Maldon Hawk” and completed his readings with “Dreaming about Oxford”, commenting: “I still dream about being there from time to time.”
Questions followed the readings, focused on how form determines a poem, use of rhyme and how to know when the writing of a poem is complete.
Hilary Davies (Modern Languages, 1974) has published four collections of poetry from Enitharmon. She has won an Eric Gregory award; from 2012 to 2016 she was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at King’s College, London and in 2018-9 held the same post at the British Library.
Grevel Lindop (English, 1966) is a poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer. He was formerly a Professor of Romantic & Early Victorian Studies at University of Manchester, until 2001 when he left the university to work as a freelance writer.
Michael Schmidt OBE (English, 1967) is Professor of Poetry at the University of Manchester. He is a founder and editorial and managing director of Carcanet Press Limited, and a founder and general editor of PN Review.
Rowan Williams (DPhil Theology, 1972) is the former Archbishop of Canterbury and from 2013-2020 was Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He has written a number of books on the history of theology and spirituality, and published collections of articles and sermons as well as two books of poetry.