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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The "Saga of Skullduggery" Continues

Ruth Padel stepped down from her recent appointment as Oxford University's chair in poetry yesterday, after admitting she was behind the anonymous allegations of sexual impropriety against Derek Walcott, her main competitor for the post. The admission that she sent e-mail messages to reporters is, according to the New York Times, "a stunning turn in a saga of skullduggery that had opened a bitter schism in Britain’s literary world." Read the full article here.

In this article for The Telegraph, Michael Deacon laments this defeat of poetry by "gossip," citing the impropriety of a number of famous poets: Dylan Thomas' alcholism, T.S. Eliot's possible racism, Philip Larkin's love of pornography, Poe's 13-year-old wife, etc. etc. He goes on to say, "All of these men, our anonymous epistolary guardians might grudgingly concede, knew a thing or two about putting words together, chopping them into lines and all that carry-on. But not one of them, were they alive today, could hope to land the Oxford post; they just don’t meet the exacting moral standards set by people who conduct smear campaigns."

Yikes. A writer's art should speak for itself, of course. But shouldn't a teacher be held accountable for his behavior toward students?


Anonymous said...

I believe this gets at the heart of the issue. Art must exist outside of appointments, but it does not go both ways. This is a professorship - a post with a power structure that builds students into the equation. It differs from an award, even a lecture series: this is a post which places whoever receives it in proximity to students. The comments that have been circulating that, in effect, all artists are debauched is no argument to give them university posts. Would racism or anti-Semitism be seen as such a non-issue. Ezra Pound, anyone? Reward artists with positions that don't undermine students. Or, perhaps, most of those who grace over the issue think that sexual harassment in the ivory tower no longer affects young people. It does.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a delicate issue, and as always, the media can't process delicate issues very sensitively, for any party involved. I'm really glad to see this news being discussed here, because too often I find the American poetry world is too insular in regarding itself. So, thanks for expanding our sense of the poetry community beyond our borders.