26 May 2009

Poetic justice as Padel and Walcott show they're human

What is it about poetry? What is it about the mere conjuring of words and images that provokes suicide, hatred, ferocious rivalry – in fact, the very worst traits of human coexistence?

Is poetry an eternal crime of passion? Do those who write it become so embroiled in their own passion that they lose a sense of proportion?

This is what certainly seems to have occurred in the case of Ruth Padel and her undermining of Derek Walcott’s nomination to be professor of poetry at Oxford – the post that Ruth Padel eventually got but has now relinquished.

We’ll be showing evidence tonight on Channel 4 News that Padel’s email went beyond the question of allegations of sexual harassment. She complains in the email that, at 80, he was too old, too infirm, and would be of no value to students at Oxford.

She even returns to the sex theme by suggesting that Barack Obama may have passed him over for the inaugural poem. It seems improbable that Obama would have passed over the myriad American poets to settle on the man from St Lucia.

Sylvia, Ted, Byron, Shelley, Keats… Where does the list of pain, agony, ecstasy and the rest end?

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