Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Terse over Poetic Verse

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Terse over Poetic Verse

Article excerpt

In the land of Shakespeare and Wordsworth, poetry has the power to stir passions - but it seldom dominates news headlines. However, an unseemly row over the election of the first woman to Oxford University's prestigious post of professor of poetry - just weeks after the appointment of Britain's first female poet laureate - has pushed the art center-stage. Ruth Padel, the great-great- granddaughter of Charles Darwin and the first women to hold the position at Oxford since its creation in 1708, has been reciting some words of mea culpa after being forced to resign this week. Her crime? It emerged that, during her campaign for the post, she tipped off journalists about past allegations of sexual harassment made by students at Harvard University in 1982 against her main rival, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. The St. Lucian-born writer, who had been the leading contender for the job, withdrew from the race after a dossier containing photocopied pages from a book detailing the allegations, The Lecherous Professor, was anonymously sent to 100 academics at Oxford. Apology and withdrawal "I apologize to Derek Walcott for doing something which could be misconstrued in the context of a large campaign that had nothing to do with me and which I didn't know about," Ms. Padel said in statement she read out at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales on Tuesday. She stepped down after learning that opinion in Oxford was "bitterly divided." But there was a mixed reception to what many regarded as a half- hearted apology and her insistence that she had felt compelled to contact journalists because female students had come to her expressing concerns about Mr. Walcott's past. He ruled out a second bid at the newly-vacant Oxford position, telling The Times newspaper on Tuesday that he did not want to revisit "that awful business". Padel's fate was sealed at the weekend when the Sunday Times newspaper revealed the existence of the e-mails sent by her, after previously denying that she had mentioned Walcott's harassment record and/or being part of "any closed-door operation" to smear him. Defenders of Padel have turned their fire on the media, specifically London arts journalists, accusing them of hypocrisy, malice, and a preoccupation with gossip. …

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