An Irishman’s Diary, Frank McNally, Irish Times


Londoner’s Diary, Evening Standard, 2 June


When I was nominated for Professor of Poetry in 2010 and came third out of eleven, there was some debate about whether the post required an Oxford insider or an outsider. I claim to be both, in that I lived the Oxford experience as an undergraduate and got a First in English, but I have never been an academic. I resolved early never to make a living from poetry or by teaching it, and that any earnings from my poems would go towards publishing poetry by others.  The main published books of my own poems are: Skindiving (Ladysmith Press, 1972), Desire in Belfast (Blackstaff Press, 1992), Lines from the Stone Age and Always Two –Collected Poems 1966-2009 (Greenwich Exchange, 2000 and 2009). The Memory Tree – Poems 2009-2015 will be published this year.

I have worked as a small press publisher, part-time farmer, writer, and clinical psychologist / neuropsychologist in various health services – including the NHS, where I established Memory Clinics in East London – and as an expert witness in civil and criminal court cases. I still have a part-time practice in London in neuropsychology supervision and psychotherapy. From 1968 to 1972 I was co-publisher at The Ladysmith Press, in Québec, which published over 20 books by young poets. In 2013 I founded Rún Press, Ireland, which publishes ‘Pocket Poems’, small hardbacks of the Complete Poems of poets whose work has previously not been fully collected. Its first books (2014) are the Poems of Valentin Iremonger and The Poems of Martin Seymour-Smith.

Across the decades I have published books on practical psychology, ‘student guides’ on Donne and Hardy, collections of poems, editions of poets (Trumbull Stickney, Kenneth Leslie), essays on poets and poetry in various periodicals (mainly the Scottish-American poetry magazine, Dark Horse, and The Reader), and two books on the nature of poetry – What Poetry Is (1970) and Time / No Time – the Paradox of Poetry and Physics (2014).  I now also write novels. The Devil’s Making – A Victorian Detective Mystery won the Canadian Best Crime Novel award 2014 and is being published in a new US edition by Macmillan in 2015.

When I was at Oxford the Professor of Poetry was Robert Graves. His lectures were provocative. I remember undergraduates saying ‘He can’t mean it!’  But he kept an open door when at St Johns, and I and many others felt free to visit him. In private he was as frank as in his lectures.  As Professor of Poetry I would establish just such an open presence.

I would lecture on such things as: What Poetry Is and Is Not; Poetry, Brain and Body; Paradox in Poetry and Physics; Poetry in Different Englishes; Poetry and Music. The poetry I know best is in English, but I am also at home with French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Gaelic (Irish and Scottish). If elected I shall finally be breaking my resolution not to teach poetry, but shall square that by channelling part of the stipend into publishing it.


Voting is from 22 May to 17 June.



Seán Haldane

Seán Haldane has long-standing family connections with Oxford (his great grandfather Sir William Schlich founded the School of Forestry). He obtained a First in English in 1965. His doctoral studies were in North America where he then worked in clinical psychology and neuropsychology. He returned to England in 1994, setting up Memory Clinics in the NHS and doing medical-legal work, both civil and criminal.

He has published books on psychology and psychotherapy as well as on poets and poetry, and his recent historical crime novel about an Oxford detective in British Columbia in 1869 has won a major award.

His double life as a poet and scientist-practitioner is reflected in his friendships with other poets and with neuroscientists and physicists. He is used to poetic and scientific thought and sees no incompatibility between them.

Historically the Professor of Poetry has been not only a writer in residence but a scholar, and the early professors often gave lectures on Latin and Greek poetry. Seán Haldane speaks and reads French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Gaelic and has either written about or translated poetry in all these languages. With his wide range of knowledge and experience he will be a distinguished occupant of the post.

He is a publisher of other poets’ work, and his own poems have always had a circle of readers. Robert Graves (Professor of Poetry, 1961-6) wrote about Haldane’s first volume of poems in 1968: ‘I like Seán’s poems: clean, accurate and no nonsense – they still have the original poetic nap on them. They make sense, which is rare these days.’ The Scottish poet Helena Nelson wrote of his Collected Poems 1966-2009: ‘Reading through Haldane’s volume is an extraordinary experience, not unlike walking very close to a waterfall. Things sparkle and flash on all sides: one becomes mesmerised and fascinated by the energy, the force of the flow… I am not sure if Haldane’s other existence in neuropsychology has to do with it, but there is often the sense of a mind watching itself with the reader invited into the brain. It is eerie and intense.’

If elected Professor of Poetry Seán Haldane intends to lecture on such topics as What Poetry Is and Is Not; Poetry, Brain and Body; Paradox in Poetry and Physics; Poetry in Different Englishes; Poetry and Music. In his Candidate Statement he writes about Robert Graves: ‘In private he was as frank as in his lectures. As Professor of Poetry I would establish just such an open presence.’

Paul Charles Adams, Department of Pharmacology

Michael Broers, Lady Margaret Hall

Ivor Crewe, University College

Nicholas Graham Irving, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences

Dr A M Knowland, University College

Peter Jezzard, University College

C A Miller, University College

L G Mitchell, University College

William A. Roth, University College

Tiffany Stern, University



Note: The University requires at least 50 nominators. This list of 57 nominators includes two names of people who are graduates of Oxford but who have not had their degrees formally conferred and who are not included on the University list. Another two names on the University list have recently been deleted after I notified the University that they were there in error, so it stands at 55.

Nominators 2015

Paul Adams, Department of Pharmacology

Richard Andrews, St John’s College

Laura Batchelor Somerville College

Shauna Bevan, University College

Timothy Bevan, University College

Michael Broers, Lady Margaret Hall

Michael Buckley, University College

Rip Bulkeley, Exeter College

Jeff Burley, Green Templeton College

Laura Cockburn, University College

Nathaniel Cockburn, University College

Peter Cockburn, University College

Stephen Cockburn, University College

Ivor Crewe, University College

Thomas Dinham, University College

David Filkin, University College

Anthony Gardner, St Catherine’s College

Lucia Graves, St Anne’s

Benjamin Harrison, Christ Church

David Harrison, University College

Nicholas Irving, Nuffield Dept of Clinical Neurosciences

Elizabeth Kendall, Somerville College

Sholto Kynoch, Worcester College

Sally Lloyd-Bostock, Lady Margaret Hall

David Logan, University College

Anthony Lurcock, University College

Alexander Macdonald, University College

Robert McHenry, University College

Rory McTurk, University College

Marcus Miller, University College

David Mills, University College

Robert Moore, Merton College

Penelope Moyle, Nuffield College

S A Moyle, Worcester College

Daniel Norman, New College

Richard Norton, University College

Lucy Oldfield, Brasenose College

John Pattison, University College

Richard Perkins, Christ Church

David Potter, University College

Diane Purkiss, Keble College

Oliver Ramsbotham, University College

Timothy Salmon, University College

Henrietta Sansbury, New College

Tania Saxl, Merton College

Robin Schlich, St John’s College

Stephen Schlich, New College

Peter Slinn, University College

Martin Sorrell, University College

Tiffany Stern, University College

Michael Stone, University College

Boudewijn Van Oort, University College

William Waterfield, University College

Bruce Watkin, Christ Church

Patrick Wheeler, Christ Church

Janet Williamson, St Catherine’s College

Michael York, University College

Interview – Psychologist Magazine

The January 2011 issue of the Psychologist magazine has an interview with Haldane.

Professor of Poetry 2010

Seán Haldane was nominated for Professor of Poetry in 2010 and came third out of ten candidates.

TNTthumb Sean Haldane’s book, Time/No Time: The Paradox of Poetry and physics was published in 2013.

TIME / NO  TIME:  The Paradox of Poetry and Physics

A cosmological theory in physics, although it may have explanatory power and lead to further research, cannot be tested:  the universe is too huge and may not even have limits. So physicists and poets are equally free to make untestable statements about such fundamentals as time. As physics since Mach questions the absoluteness of time, and sees it as relative (as poetry often does), perhaps there is some convergence after all. And the cosmological theories of Mach and Einstein are no more testable than those of the first theoretical physicist, Parmenides, who was also a poet.

An inspired poem and an inspired scientific insight both have the power to shock. Both state rational truth but both have begun in sudden revelation or intuition, an interruption in ordinary thought. And I think science can only advance, and poetry can only exercise what Thomas Hardy called its ‘sustaining power’, if each is open to the thinking of the other.

Poetry is inclusive of many levels of meaning, among them rational meaning, but it is also supra-rational. Traditionally science and logical argument must be exclusive of distractions and stick to a single line of thought. But the complexity of modern physics, particularly the discontinuities of quantum physics, has changed this. Whether or not physics and poetry are converging, both must accept paradox.

As I read Parmenides, he does not claim that change does not exist. He states the paradox that it cannot logically exist yet it appears to exist. This kind of paradox is the stuff of poetry. Since the arrival of quantum physics it is the stuff of physics too.

From the Introduction to Time / No Time, a wide ranging exploration of the paradox of physics and poetry, from Parmenides to the present day. Chapter topics are:  Parmenides and the Goddess, Three Universes (Hawking, Deutsch, Barbour), More-than-coincidence, Series and Time, Awareness, Mind, The Origins of Poems, and  Persistence  in the Cosmic Ocean.