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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."