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Oxford University Appoints First Woman Professor of Poetry

Daily News

Online Only, posted 5.18.09

Two weeks after Great Britain appointed its first ever woman poet laureate, Oxford University has elected its first female professor of poetry. Oxford alumna Ruth Padel, who succeeds Christopher Ricks, joins the ranks of poets Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden, and Seamus Heaney in the position, created in 1708.

"I feel honored and humbled to be given this responsibility, and shall try to carry it out as well as I can," said Padel, the Guardian reported. The poet, who is particularly interested in uniting poetry and science, vowed to "explore what poems can give to students…in the humanities and sciences. To encourage, across the university, the reading, the writing and above all the enjoying of poetry, ancient and modern, in all its richness and variety."

Oxford alumni and faculty elected Padel, who was up for the position along with Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and, until last Tuesday, Derek Walcott. The Nobel Prize-winning Caribbean poet dropped out of the race following an anonymous letter campaign notifying Oxford faculty of sexual harassment charges brought against Walcott when he was a professor at Harvard.

Days before Saturday’s election, a former student of Walcott's at Boston University who had also brought harassment charges against the poet, published a letter in the Times of London calling Walcott "the greatest living poet." Urging Oxford to halt the election process to give those involved time to consider the situation, novelist N. M. Kelby criticized the letter campaign and endorsed her former mentor, writing, "Derek Walcott is not an evil man. Like any man, he is flawed. But, like any great man, he is retrospect and understands that his flaws are universal. And from them, he creates art."

Padel, who the Guardian reported to be "visibly upset" by Walcott’s withdrawal, will assume the professorship at the end of September.

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