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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 26, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Oxford poets scandal

    Fiona McCann

    Oxford poets scandal: three words that don’t often come together, but there you have it, ladies and gents. The latest shocker from the world of wordsmiths concerns the recently appointed Oxford Professor of Poetry, Ruth Padel (Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, interviewed here by Arminta Wallace), who has resigned the position after only nine days on the job.

    Padel, whose appointment made her the first woman to hold the professorship in the 300 years of its existence, was a shoo-in after her main rival for the post, Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, withdrew from the race following an anonymous letter campaign. The letters, sent to Oxford academics, reportdly detailed a sexual harrassment allegation made against Walcott while he taught at Harvard in the 1980s. Walcott responded by pulling out of the race: “I already have a great many work commitments and, while I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it.”

    At the time, Padel said her team had “bent over backwards to run a clean campaign”.  It has since emerged that Padel was behind emails alerting two journalists to the claims against Walcott.  “As a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain,” explained Padel. And then she got the job. But now she’s chucked it in and the tawdry affair drags on. It’s been some time since academia came off so – well, eventful.

    So, was Padel right to make sure the anonymous dossier made it into the public domain? Would a Walcott appiontment have given the impression that Oxford was “soft” on sexual harrassment? Should he have resigned? Should she? Who’s next in line for the clearly uncomfortable Chair?

    • Kynos B(ugger) A(ll) Hons. says:

      Man it’s stories like this make me glad I never pursued a career amongst the dreaming spires or rather the ivory towers of academe. Like Shaw said, those who can, do. What a bunch of nasty backbiting little …I’m sure there’s a word in Old English that’s suitable. Or Old Norse. If only I hadn’t been exploring the realms of me unconscious courtesy of the cut-price beer in L.U.’s JCR bar during so many of my Eng Lit. lectures.

    • clom says:

      this never would have happened in shakespeare’s time.

    • Kynos says:

      Dunno bout that clom. Back then you could get stabbed in the arras in a tavern in Deptford for…prima facie..arguments over whose turn was it to buy the next round…or was it…being a heretic and a counterfeiter…or more darkly yet…carrying inconvenient information concerning a certain female sovereign…or perhaps…just being a damn good playwright, too good for your rivals liking. Yes indeedy. More Walsingham than Walcott. As perhaps this latest tawdry tale of Faustian bargains may yet turn out to be.

    • Kynos says:

      Might we call Patel and Walcott the Dread Poets Society? Pardon.

    • Heaneys Ghost says:

      Perhaps they should call in inspector lewis.Padel accidentley on purpose tried to muddy Walcotts waters and she suceeded and now shes been outed ,ooped only sin is to get caught,ruth! Padel name drops her ancestor like confetti and has been living off his old coat tails, because its certainly not her poetic literary genius.

    • Kynos says:

      “Perhaps they should call in inspector lewis.” I knew the discussion would finally turn re: Morse. Dit dit dit da da da. Dit dit dit da da da.

    • Paul says:

      Good editorial piece about the situation and state of poetry on a Dublin literary website, Some Blind Alleys – someblindalleys.com.

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