Spotlight on Staff: Dr Erica McAlpine

Erica McAlpine

Which book has had the biggest impact on you?

A few novels have really stayed with me: Austen’s Emma, James’s The Portrait of a Lady, and Wharton’s The House of Mirth. They captured my imagination in my early twenties and probably shaped how I think about relationships in ways I’m not sure I should admit! But Moby-Dick is my favourite for other reasons—so wild and crazy formally, and so unexpectedly funny. In terms of poetry, Frank Bidart’s Desire is a book that really changed the way I think about what poetry can do. Robert Frost’s North of Boston probably influences my writing the most. Horace’s lyric poems were my introduction to poetry, and they will always model for me the way poems can teach and delight simultaneously.

What do you do in your spare time?

My two kids make sure I don’t have a lot of spare time! But together with them and my husband, I spend a lot of hours at the allotment growing and picking flowers, going for walks with our dog, and now training our new parrots. I love to bake as well, and I’ve recently re-taken-up tennis, the sport I played as a child.

Describe your ideal day.

My ideal day involves baking chocolate chip cookies (and eating the batter), writing poetry, going for a walk with my husband on the beach, and skiing down a mountain with my kids. An impossible dream! It would end with a dinner party among friends. I don’t like alone time as much as most academics!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

I think I might love where I live right now. Oxford is a wonderful place to live: small enough to feel like I can master it, varied enough to have plenty to do at all times. And it’s beautiful with Port Meadow to the north and the university parks and the two rivers. Sometimes I fantasize about living a bohemian sort of life in the West Village in New York City (I did live there briefly in my twenties); other times I imagine a farmhouse in Tuscany (olive groves, apricots). But I’m pretty content where I am!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a famous actress. I still do?

What teacher had the greatest impact on you?

There were two really important teachers at my high school in Atlanta, Georgia: Ms Yvonne Boone, my Latin teacher, who made ancient Rome come alive and introduced me to poetry, and Mr Ellis Loyd, who first brought Elizabeth Bishop into my life!

Do you have pets?

I do, and I adore them. Prudence the two-year-old rough collie is neurotic and beautiful. And she is thankfully gentle with our parrots – Emily the rescue budgie and Pinuccia our green-cheeked conure. The birds are mine more than the dog; I’d like to live my life with a bird on my shoulder.

Were you popular as a teenager?

I think so? (Dangerous to say!) I went to a big state school in the American south (think football games on Friday nights, like in the movies, and spring breaks driving down to the beaches in Florida). There were lots of “groups,” but I had a very tight-knit band of girlfriends, and we’re still very close.

What is your favourite music?

I have embarrassingly obvious taste in music. Coldplay. Radiohead. The Indigo Girls (who are, like me, from Georgia). OutKast (also from Georgia).

If you weren’t a member of the English Faculty, what would you be?

I hope I’d be a poet. I also hope the two aren’t mutually exclusive!

Erica McAlpine is Associate Professor of English and the A.C. Cooper Tutorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall. Her recent book The Poet's Mistake (Princeton, 2020) won the British Academy's Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. Her poetry collection, The Country Gambler, was published by Shearsman Books in 2016. Her poems have also appeared in magazines including the TLS, the New York Review of Books, and The Atlantic