These were the results of last evening’s Oxford Professor of Poetry elections: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra 129 votes; Ruth Padel 297 votes. Walcott, as most of you know, had withdrawn earlier.
Although Arvind did not win, he received very considerable support from the Members of Convocation and Congregation who voted on 16th May; the largest number of votes by a long margin received by an outsider candidate in elections towards this post that we can remember. The aim had always been, primarily, to bring both Arvind and the Anglophone poetry from outside of Anglo-American literature into the frame here, as well as a new way of thinking about these matters.
Winning would always have been difficult in a scenario as inward-looking as Oxford, but the large mandate Arvind received shows that a real departure from well-worn insularity and familiarity has been achieved. This support was based not on a readymade reputation, as it would have in the case of Walcott, but by people actually discovering and assessing Arvind’s achievement – through links, circulated attachments, and other means - in the last few weeks.
The substantial number of votes in the context of the negativity that has surrounded and hounded these elections in one way or another right until yesterday is extremely, and especially, heartening, because our campaign focussed exclusively on the literary, and has been supported primarily for this reason.
A genuine awareness of Arvind’s work, and, importantly, the tradition(s) it has come from, have been created in the last two weeks: this was not only reflected in the press coverage in Britain and India, but in the real interest people in the English Faculty have shown lately in inviting Arvind to Oxford. This was echoed by the new Professor of Poetry, who thinks it is important to bring a poet of Arvind’s excellence to students here. Whatever happens in the future, we hope we have succeeded to some extent in our original intention to create a sense of departure on, and through, this occasion.
It’s now for us to thank you with the sincerest gratitude for your nominations, support, kindness, time, and, where appropriate, for your votes. Two people we would like to thank in particular for helping in the last two days to spread the word in various ways are Dr Sally Bayley of Jesus College and Aadya Shukla of the Oxford University Indian Society.
Finally, we would like to thank, for the first time, the person who most deserves thanks and gratitude: Arvind Krishna Mehotra – an exemplary nominee in every possible way, whose dignity and merit augmented the possibilities of a difficult election. He has been a completely egoless candidate, keeping himself in the background, but he was an absolutely committed one once he had agreed to our proposal.