Monday, 18 May 2009

Poetry is a damn dirty business.

It's not enough that the House of Commons seems to be the most corrupt place in Britain at the moment but now we have scandal and dirt in another of our venerable institutions.

Oxford University has appointed a new Professor of Poetry, Ruth Padel. This appointment holds a large degree of prestige, little pay (£6,901) and involves the holder giving only three lectures per year.

It was the run up to her win that had the dons tongues a waggin'. Originally the post was between her and Derek Walcott who was seen by many to be the front runner, however he pulled out on 12th May due to a smear campaign in which over one hundred professors at the university were sent anonymous letters and details of a sexual assault allegation laid against Walcott in 1982.

The list of Professors of Poetry at Oxford is long and distinguished and one comment was made by opponents of Walcott that it would 'disgrace the university to give such a coveted role - second only to the poet laureate - to a man with such a libidinous record', however the post of Professor has been held by several other men who in their career have had certain claims made about them that would (to some) cast dispersion on the position. (W.H Auden in 1939 had a lover half his age, Edmund Blunden was married three times, the last time to an ex-student and John Wain was from Stoke-on-Trent!!).

As time has moved on the 'scandal' surrounding these poets has lessened as society's views have changed. I'm not suggesting that sexual harassment is by any means acceptable it should always be taken seriously and fully investigated however the case against Walcott was settled out of court (which depending on your point of view can mean anything but does not presume any guilt) and was not tried.

It seems that even in pursuit of the ode you have to watch your back.

1 comment:

Katy Ludditt said...

Scholarly scandals! Love it.