Ruth is Professor of Poetry at King’s College London where she teaches the writing of poetry and drama. In a recent article for her students, Ruth discussed the process of revising, using her own work so they could see her subjecting her own poems to the same cutting and questioning she applies to their work.
At King’s, she curates a public reading series Poetry And… which pairs a leading poet with a distinguished expert in another field to highlight the connections poetry can make with other disciplines and experiences. She outlined Poetry And’s aims in The Guardian:
Poetry connects. Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve seen poems making bonds between people and disciplines. When the same poem matters to two people, it generates an affinity. An effective poem is a delicate calibration of heard and unheard, sound and thought, combining clarities of day with the mysteries of night which depend on associative connections. On first reading, you may only sense these, like catching the glint of lacquerware in candlelight. That’s why King’s College is hosting a series of events called Poetry And…
The series so far has included Poetry and – Film with Thaddeus O’Sullivan and Glyn Maxwell; History with Roy Foster; Nature vs Nurture with Steve Jones; The Divided Brain with Ian MacGilchrist and Michael Symmons Roberts; Science with Gillian Beer; Ornithology (and Egg Collecting) with Tim Birkhead and Paul Farley; Mapping with Jerry Brotton and Kei Miller; psychiatric connections with Dr Sushrut Jadhav; Climate Change with David Harsent; and war veterans, with returned male and female soldiers.
Ruth comes from a family of teachers, Her grandfather and father both taught classics, and from 1976-1984 Ruth taught Ancient Greek at Oxford, Cambridge and Birkbeck College London; and in 1995 she taught a course on women’s voices in opera in the Modern Greek Department of Princeton University. From 1990 until 2013 she taught writing poetry freelance, on Arvon courses, in schools, and at book festivals such as Ledbury, Aldeburgh and West Cork.
Ruth does little freelance teaching now, but in 2017 she taught workshops for The Poetry School and Cambridge Conservation Institute. Recent charity work has included teaching conservation at the Cathedral School of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Southwark (for Animal Planet’s initiative R.O.A.R: “Reach Out. Act. Respond”); teaching primary school Latin for The Latin Programme; teaching poetry workshops for children at Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, Scotland; and adult poetry workshops for Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete, and for BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Workshop.
In public institutions, as Resident Writer or Trustee, Ruth has aimed to promote the writing and enjoyment of poetry. As Chair of the UK Poetry Society, 2004-5, she overhauled the Society’s Constitution, oversaw the creation of poetry ‘Stanzas’ across the UK linking local poetry groups to the Society, and inaugurated the Poetry Society’s Annual Lecture.
She has been Writer in Residence at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, Christ’s College Cambridge, the Environment Institute at University College London, and the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. As Trustee of the Zoological Society of London she curated three years of Writers’ Talks on Endangered Animals. Highlights included Jo Shapcott on the slender loris, Helen Macdonald on birds of prey, Andrew Motion with the sea horse, Sara Wheeler on penguins, Susie Orbach on tigers and ‘jungles of the mind’, David Harsent on the African Wild Dog and Mark Haddon on the Galapagos Tortoise.
As first Resident Writer at Somerset House, London, Ruth designed and curated Picture This, a series of Writers’ Talks at the Courtauld Gallery inaugurated by Philip Pullman on Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergères, Colm Toibin on Cézanne and Hisham Matar on Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Oxford Professor of Poetry
In 2009, Ruth became the first woman to be elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. She was looking forward to helping students make the kinds of connection between poetry and other disciplines which she inaugurated at Somerset House and the Courtauld Institute, and has since explored at the Zoological Society of London and King’s College, but her election took place in a media storm of unproven allegations of a smear campaign against Derek Walcott, the other main contender for the chair. Not wanting to do the job under controversy, Ruth resigned the post. After resigning, she opened the Edinburgh Book Festival with a reading from Darwin – A Life in Poems, gave the 2011 Housman Lecture at Hay on Wye Festival, chaired the Judges for the 2009 National Poetry Competition, the 2010 Forward Prize for Poetry and 2016 T S Eliot Prize, was a Judge for the 2016 International Man Booker Prize, and in 2010 and 2015 supported Geoffrey Hill and Simon Armitage for the Chair.