My pleasure in Ruth Padel’s accession to the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry was premature. It seems that she was the person who set the smear campaign against Derek Walcott into motion. In a statement to media last night, she had the following to say:
I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott’s withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out. I did not engage in a smear campaign against him, but, as a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain. [My emphasis.]
Hmm. Do we take her at her word and consider her incredibly naive, or deplore her actions as an attempt to cheat a rival? Either way, it’s not a tenable position for her. And what a pity that she didn’t declare this earlier.
Much as I’d like to agree with Jackie Kay that “The old boys have closed in on her” and “It would not have happened to a man”, I just can’t. No matter if her intentions were absolutely pure – she needed to stand up and say “well yes, I reminded (told?) the two journalists about the old allegations because a couple of students had brought their concerns to my attention” as soon as the story broke. If she genuinely believed that she’d done nothing wrong, why didn’t she stand by her own actions? The act of telling the journalists isn’t the problem: her not admitting to it is.
It’s a damn shame. For her, and for us. And for poetry.