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This report is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

Extra Time in the Varsity Match Neil Powell
When the world was young - when Hyde Park was a flowerpot and Crystal Palace was a greenhouse, as my father used to say - Donald Davie wrote for a fledgling magazine, Poetry Nation, a piece called ‘The Varsity Match’. In it, he argued that ‘for the last fifty years each new generation of English poets … was formed or fomented or dreamed up by lively undergraduates at Oxford’: W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender; Sidney Keyes and Drummond Allison; Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and John Wain; John Fuller and Ian Hamilton… Actually, that was in 1974, which to some of us seems like the day before yesterday but which was nevertheless too long ago for Davie to have noted an emerging group of poets associated not merely with Oxford but with a particular college and even a specific tutor.

But why Oxford? In the past, one paradoxical-looking answer may have been that Oxford English was so dull. When I was at school, Cambridge was the place to go to study English Literature - my English teacher, Alan Hurd, recommended his own college, Clare, because it had much the nicest garden - unless you wanted to mix it with European or American, in which case East Anglia or Sussex or Warwick might be the place for you. Oxford had a reputation for being bogged down in philology and Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, all that stuff which Larkin memorably described as ‘ape’s bumfodder’. Bright bookish students of the Auden or Amis ...

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