Padel becomes Oxford Professor of Poetry


Ruth Padel has become the new Oxford Professor of Poetry today, following a contest tinged with controversy.

Ms Padel is the first female to take on the role since it was created in 1708.

After a very public battle, which saw the withdrawal of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, the Oxford alumna was elected with 297 votes cast by Oxford graduates and academic staff.

Her fellow nominee, Indian poet Arvind Mehrotra, received 129 votes.

Mr Walcott withdrew from the race earlier this week following what he called a “low and degrading” campaign against him.

The 79-year-old was the front runner for the position, but pulled out after anonymous letters were sent to more than 100 Oxford professors.

The letters reportedly detailed an allegation of sexual harassment made against the St Lucia-born poet by a former student in 1982.

The anonymous letters were said to have contained a photocopied page of the book The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment On Campus, by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, detailing the sexual allegations made against Mr Walcott.

Last week, Ms Padel dismissed any suggestion that she or her supporters were behind the letters.

Speaking after her selection today, Ms Padel said she felt “honoured” and “humbled” to accept the position.

“I should like to thank the University, and the people who voted for me,” she said.

“I feel honoured and humbled to be given this responsibility, and shall try to carry it out as well as I can.

“My backers based their support for me on what they felt I could offer poetry and students. Now I shall do my best to fulfil their trust.”

Ms Padel is to succeed the scholar Christopher Ricks, who steps down from hisfive-year term of office at the end of September.

Other poets to have held the prestigious post include Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Seamus Heaney.