Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alls Fair...

LONDON _ A fight over who gets to be Oxford University's top poet has set Britain's pens racing _ and weakened the careers of two well-known wordsmiths.

St. Lucia-born Derek Walcott pulled out of the race for Oxford's Professor of Poetry after letters were distributed highlighting sexual harassment allegations made against him at Harvard and Boston Universities in the 1980s and 1990s.

His rival, Ruth Padel, resigned from the prestigious post Monday after admitting she sent e-mails to journalists publicizing the claims.

Some commentators called the move poetic justice, but others say the controversy uncovered the racially and sexually charged undercurrents still coursing through the uppermost reaches of academia.

Padel, the first female Professor of Poetry since the job was created three centuries ago, was elected only after Walcott, a Nobel Literature Laureate, dropped out under pressure from an anonymous letter-writing campaign.

The mysterious missives, dropped in Oxford University mailboxes, reportedly recapped a 1982 incident in which officials at Harvard admonished Walcott for pressuring a freshman into having sex with him, as well as a 1996 sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former Boston University graduate student.

Walcott called the letters an attempt at character assassination. Padel denied having anything to do with them, but The Sunday Times revealed that she had drawn attention to the charges in e-mail exchanges with unidentified journalists. Some of her previous backers called on her to stand down.

"As soon as I was told yesterday that there were people in Oxford who were severely against me I thought it was the right thing," she told BBC radio Tuesday. "I didn't want to divide the university, I wanted to offer it my services, so of course I stood down immediately."

1 comment:

Shelley Chernin said...

From an editorial in today's NY Times:

"There is the stuff of poetic satire in this, if only it weren’t so sad and pathetic."

Gee. I'm surprised the NY Times cares enough about this to give it editorial space, let alone call the situation "sad and pathetic." So many "sad and pathetic" things in the news today, from the California Supreme Court's ratification of the gay marriage ban (yes, they editorialized on that) to bombings in Pakistan, threats from N. Korea, transcripts of Roland Burris's phone calls to Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother as Burris pushed to succeed Obama in the Senate, the Cav's loss.

What the heck is "sad and pathetic" about the dark side of a couple of poets?



The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau