Public Poetry

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Robert Montgomery, installation at Bexhill-on-Sea, lit by recycled sunlight

When Oxford University Press decided, in 1998, to sell off its poetry backlist, begun in the 1960s, and to close its doors to new collections of contemporary poetry, a vigil outside the press’s offices was called by the Poetry Society and the MSF trade union branch. A louder and more direct response came from Alan Howarth, then junior minister in the department of culture, media, and sport. Howarth labelled the financial grounds of the decision ‘barbaric’ and argued that the dropping of the poetry list equated to an ‘erosion of standards’. ‘Has OUP not noticed,’ Howarth asked, ‘that in this day and age we have moved on from the heresy that everything should be susceptible to market forces, that everything should be for sale?’ It is hard to imagine such a statement coming from a government minister today.

At the time…

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