Dahrendorf Scholar at St Antony’s nominated for acclaimed Oxford literature prizes

Olivier Yasar de France, a Dahrendorf Scholar at St Antony’s, has seen two of his poems nominated for coveted Oxford poetry prizes.

The first poem, entitled Grassroots, was shortlisted for the Martin Starkie Prize. It tells of a late summer evening in Saint Frideswide Farm, a sanctuary for writers, artists and musicians that lies in the fields on the outskirts of Oxford. The house has occupied its Water Eaton landscape since 1526: previously protected, the area has been removed from the Green Belt to make room for a string of building developments, which will mark the end of an ecosystem that stretches back half a millennium. The poem was written to honour the life of Sally Craddock, a stalwart of Oxford’s intellectual scene and custodian of the farm, who ran it for the best part of the past half-century.

The second piece, entitled Grassrots, charts the consequences of this progressive but methodical destruction of Oxford’s natural environment. It was nominated for the DART Prize, which is named after poet Alice Oswald’s journey through the landscapes of the river Dart, in Devon. Both poems are part of a collection entitled #PR6a — the code of the area marked out for development on North Oxford’s former Green Belt. The collection is a speculative attempt at speaking for the lands and ecosystems that inhabit the area without a voice, in view of the monopoly exercised by human beings on politics. #PR6a is written in a voice it calls grassroot poetry, which is guided by the intuition that the world is “full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper” (Phillpotts), and that “a poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence, because he has no identity — he is continually in for and filling some other body” (Keats).

The two poems share in a broader, longer-term effort to retell T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land one hundred years hence: for an age beset this time not by world wars, but by the wars our century is waging against the world itself — which we are literally turning into a land of waste. The first instalment of this larger undertaking entitled The Land of Waste was published on the centenary of Eliot’s poem.

Olivier’s academic work looks at relational theories of politics, and argues they can help refashion our concomitant understanding of nature and human nature. It focuses more particularly on Benedict Spinoza’s subversive early modern philosophy — not least how it can help uproot modern imaginaries and reshape human polities in both social and ecological terms, towards what may be termed grassroot politics. Olivier’s first book was shortlisted for the Jacques Delors book prize.

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