The London Times published a profile of Walcott yesterday seemingly intended as their expression of regret about the circumstances that pushed Walcott into withdrawing his candidacy for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry. The curious piece—described in the title as a “profile”—makes the case for considering Walcott “the modern world’s greatest living poet.” It also, however, offers a space for supporters of Walcott who believe the smear campaign against the St. Lucian poet was a conspiracy involving Ruth Padel and her backers. The accusations are not voiced by the Times anonymous writer (s)–the piece is unsigned–but through fairly extensive quotations from those brandishing them. Here are some of the pertinent passages:
James Fenton, a former incumbent of the professorship, went further, blaming Ruth Padel, Walcott’s chief rival for the post, and more pertinently the journalist John Walsh, who wrote an inflammatory piece in The Independent asking if Walcott’s fans had forgotten “the shadows of sexual harassment that have swirled around their man over the years”. Subsequently, photocopied pages from a book by two American campaigners against sexual harassment on US campuses were posted to Oxford dons.
Fenton raged: “It has been disgusting to watch as this hypocritical duo have kicked a 79-year-old poet in the slats, not because he represented some kind of threat to the weak-willed young women of Oxford (come on!) but because he stood in the way of Padel’s ambitions.”
Padel herself has disclaimed any responsibility: “What we all should have been talking about all this time was – and is – poetry.” There are few, including Walcott, who criticise Padel’s poetry, although fewer who would place it in the same league as his.
It is all—to quote another poet—curioser and curiouser.
The article can be found at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6301513.ece
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