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Ian Jack, while making a perfectly valid point in the Telegraph about how the method of choosing Oxford’s Professor of Poetry needs a radical rethink, tells this delightful story:
... I made the mistake of publishing a 13-word poem by Vikram Seth called “Sampati”, about the eponymous character in the Ramayana who, like Icarus, flies too near the sun. We added this information in an epigraph and footnote to the poem, without telling the poet, and Vikram was so furious that he made us publish the poem again in a later edition minus its informative dressing. This took up more space than you might think for a thirteen-word poem, because every word had a line to itself apart from “un-done”, which took up two.It is just for these sort of things that I have always liked Vikram Seth. Now I like him even more. As for the headline and the contents of this post, well, maybe you do need to read more about the poets Walcott and Padel and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
We were only trying to help the ignorant reader, but we were definitely in the wrong. After all, how many footnotes does T.S. Eliot have? (Not enough.)
Ruth Padel, the first woman to be elected Oxford's professor of poetry, has resigned following claims she had tipped off journalists about allegations that her chief rival for the post, Derek Walcott, had sexually harassed students.
There had originally been three contenders. Walcott, Padel and Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. After Walcott withdrew following a smear campaign, Padel expectedly went on to win the vote on May 16 against Mehrotra.
The Guardian reports:
Padel won the vote nine days ago. But in a statement tonight she said: "I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott's withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out. I did not engage in a smear campaign against him, but, 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."
She said she had acted in "good faith" and would have been "happy to lose to Derek, but I can see that people might interpret my actions otherwise. I wish to do what is best for the university and I understand that opinion there is divided. I therefore resign from the chair of poetry."
The Guardian also quotes "Amit Chaudhuri, a supporter of the campaign of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, the remaining serious contender for the post":
"I feel bad for Ruth; and I also feel the professorship has been run dry in the worst possible way. One is left with no enthusiasm about the whole thing.
"Though I have had no opportunity to speak about this to my candidate, I am not sure whether he would want to try again, but we will see." He added: "When something gets involved in a publicity machine there is no saying where it will stop. It was Padel who instigated the publicity machine and it has gone completely out of control. It is very sad."
The Guardian reports that Derek Walcott has withdrawn his candidacy for Oxford poetry professor after sexual harassment claims revived by anonymous letter campaign:
The campaign saw up to 100 Oxford academics sent photocopied pages from a book detailing a sexual harassment claim made against Walcott by a Harvard student in 1982. The student alleged that Walcott asked her to, "Imagine me making love to you. What would I do? ... Would you make love with me if I asked you?", and claimed that after she turned him down, she was given a C grade in his class. Walcott was one of three candidates in the running for the position – the most influential in poetry in the UK behind that of the laureateship – alongside Ruth Padel and the Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. [More here]
NYT also has more details:
But Mr. Walcott told The Standard: “What happened 20 years ago I have never commented upon and have never given my side of what happened. That will continue to be the case.”
The author Hermione Lee, president of Wolfson College at Oxford and a leader of Mr. Walcott’s campaign, said in a statement that the letters “had the look of an orchestrated anonymous campaign.” She added that while she had “great respect” for Ms. Padel, “if it did not emanate from her, she should publicly disassociate herself from it.”
In an earlier interview with The Sunday Times of London, Ms. Lee defended Mr. Walcott, saying: “Should great poets who behave badly be locked away from social interaction? We are acting as purveyors of poetry, not of chastity.” [Full story is here]