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Derek Walcott Drops Out

By Travis Nichols

The big poetry news this week (besides the bizarre “poetry jam” over at the White House) is Derek Walcott’s withdrawal from the Oxford poetry race due to an anonymous letter-writing campaign detailing sexual harassment claims against him.

The campaign brought to light allegations from the Nobel-laureate’s time at Harvard. According to the New York Times:

The charges of sexual harassment date back nearly 30 years and were detailed in the book ‘The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus,’ by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner — excerpts of which were sent in the anonymous packages. They describe how, in 1982, Mr. Walcott was accused of saying a number of provocative things to a woman who was a student in his poetry workshop at Harvard, including ‘Would you make love to me if I asked you?’

When she rebuffed him, the student said, he gave her a C grade.

Concluding in 1982 that the complaint had merit, Harvard reprimanded Mr. Walcott and changed the student’s grade from C to ‘Pass.’”

Walcott offered this statement to the Evening Standard:

“I withdraw from the election to be professor of poetry at Oxford. I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used in this election and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me for the role or to myself.  I already have a great many work commitments and while I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it.”

Oxford has declined to postpone the search, leaving Ruth Padel and Arvind Mehrotra still in the running.

The Independent weighed in: “To anyone shocked by the ruthless campaign that has forced a candidate for the role of Oxford Professor of Poetry to withdraw, we would say: don’t be. Few can rival composers of verse for their willingness to stoop to conquer.”

And The Guardian report on the story featured this quote from Oxford English professor Elleke Boehmer:

“‘How many male professors of poetry of a certain age and generation can safely hold their hands up and say that they are entirely clear of any history of sexual harassment?’”

All of which has led many to ask, as Mary Fitzgerald did today, “Should Derek Walcott have been Oxford Poetry Professor?”

Comments (72)

  • On May 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    I read the thread following the Guardian article and was appalled at the misinformation being spread about, largely in England, regarding this matter.

    1. The 1982 situation involved, according the countless reports published in national media at the time, a confession by Walcott to the behavior alleged, a finding from the world’s pre-eminent university that allegations of sexual misconduct against one of its professors “had merit,” a reprimand being issued to Walcott, and rehabilitative actions being taken by the university to redress the wrongs admitted to by Walcott. This is fact; read Time Magazine, or the New York Times, or any one of dozens of other media on this point. Google “Derek Walcott” and “sexual” for “All Dates”–something apparently few of Walcott’s defenders have done.

    2. The 1996 situation involved a very public, and widely-reported-on, legal battle between Walcott and a student whose allegations were by no means anonymous. Her name is known, it is Nicole Niemi, and she sued Walcott. It wasn’t a criminal case; Walcott had no Fifth Amendment right he was protecting. It was therefore his decision to make: fight the allegations publicly as being untrue, and counter-sue for slander, or else do what–in the event–he actually did, which is settle out of court, almost certainly (the intervening years have shown) with a gag order prohibiting his accuser from discussing how much money she was paid to keep quiet, if any, or what consideration she was given, if any, to cease her legal suit. This much is true: a settlement was reached between the parties, and there’s a gap of causality between that fact and the fact that Walcott’s accuser has never again, it appears, spoken of the incident. Any attorney in the U.S. would tell you that to get a gag order from someone who’s suing you for thousands of dollars post-settlement means that you had to have given them something of value as well. Walcott had a chance to parade his innocence publicly and he chose to fold. Because this isn’t a court of law, and we’re not jurors, we can deduce from that whatever we like. The presumption of innocence, as attorneys well know–and often say–is an in-court indulgence only, and has been constructed by the courts in precisely that fashion. Likewise, even in civil cases the standard of proof is “more likely than not” (“preponderance of the evidence”); an out-of-court settlement, with a gag order, is, for me, enough proof that at least some kind of wrong-doing occurred.

    3. Walcott has not been publicly accused of sexual harassment–a notoriously under-reported form of abuse of power, for which each reported incident generally (studies have shown) suggests many, many more actual incidents–not merely once or twice but, in fact, three times. On February 2, 1996, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported of Walcott (re: the Niemi affair) that “this is the third time he has been accused of sexual harassment.” Walcott’s peers in the poetry-teaching world might well wonder why Derek, more so than any other poet/teacher alive, seems to be the butt of highly-public allegations of sexual misconduct which his defenders now say are (all of them) without merit. One can only wonder whether the sexual misconduct Walcott admitted to in 1982 was also without merit, or the allegations he decided to avoid a public trial on in 1996.

    4. More than this: within hours after I posted on my blog, an American blog of no account whatsoever to the race for Oxford Professor of Poetry in England, a commentary on the Walcott situation, not one but two female posters posted anonymously to claim–one in extensive detail–that they too had been sexually harassed by Walcott. It is difficult for one to read the more detailed of these two accounts without suspecting, given the nature of the previous allegations, that it is true. Certainly, there’s no clear explanation for why anyone wishing to start a “smear” campaign against Walcott (and the word “smear” has repeatedly been misused in the British press, as “smears” are by definition already known to be unsubstantiated) would begin such a campaign on a completely irrelevant American blog. That too argues for the truthfulness of these anonymous accounts. While I don’t claim to know whether they are true, again, as a reasonable person not acting as a juror in a criminal case I have every right to draw my own reasonable conclusions. And I have.

    5. Within hours after I posted on my blog, a former student of Walcott’s, James Marcus, posted non-anonymously on his own blog that when he studied with Walcott the man’s predilections for “skirt-chasing” were widely known. None of his misconduct was seen, by his students of the time, as either an isolated incident or merely “allegations.” This is, rather, in the manner of an “open secret” which people have kept quiet on out of a) a misguided sense of propriety, and b) fear of reprisal from Walcott, as the allegation he settled out of court on in 1996 explicitly alleged that Walcott promised reprisal if his student Nicole Niemi would not sleep with him. It is worth noting, too, that one of the anonymous posters on my blog said Walcott’s behavior had not changed, by her personal knowledge, as late as 1998; the other, who made the detailed claim of misconduct (including a full narrative of the event, with quotes), said that her incident had occurred “in the 2000s.” One wonders how much evidence of a trend some need to at least be concerned that Walcott’s reputation is sufficiently cloudy that him receiving an ongoing position of honor at Oxford might damage the University’s reputation.

    6. It is beside the point whether Walcott would be meeting with students privately, or not, as Oxford Professor of Poetry. Allegations of sexual harassment–just one allegation–frequently lead to termination of employment in the U.S., and nearly 100% of the time when the professor concedes the facts, as Walcott did in 1982. Had what happened in 1982 at Harvard happened today, 27 years later, Walcott would undoubtedly have been fired. Likewise, based on his out-of-court settlement in 1996 it is hard to imagine Walcott, on the job market, with one admitted-to allegation of sexual misconduct and one out-of-court settlement and a widespread reputation for misconduct in the educational community, would be able to find a job as a professor at a university–ceremonial position or otherwise. It is amazing to me that admitted-to behavior which is a firing offense in the United States is suddenly, in the mind of some, not enough to prevent someone from being hired as a professor in the UK. That paradox boggles the mind, particularly as Walcott has never apologized for his behavior or sought help for it, and there isn’t a single indication–from any quarter–that the behavior has been amended. It’s telling that Walcott’s former students, when they do defend him, do not defend him on the grounds that he isn’t a serial sexual harasser, but simply that it shouldn’t matter that he is.

    7. No one has been denied anything here. Walcott will continue to give readings and lectures and interviews and tutorials all around the world. His books will continue to be widely read. The question here was a limited one: Did Oxford want to be associated with someone who has Walcott’s reputation for sexual misconduct in a university setting? The campaign against him asked this highly-reasonable question; it didn’t even call for Walcott to withdraw from the race, merely asked voters to vote against him. Walcott’s withdrawal was his own decision–and reflects, yet again, his unwillingness to defend himself against allegations we would (being that this is a non-criminal case) reasonably expect him to respond to and publicly refute. In a criminal case a jury may not hold the defendant’s silence against him; in the court of public opinion every single one of us is entitled to hold Walcott’s 30-year silence on his reputation as a serial abuser of students in his charge against him.

    8. Go and read the comments in the British press, and you’ll see the sort of damage caused by those who wish to promote a man like Walcott to the second-highest position in poetry in the United Kingdom. On the Guardian blog, we are sagely informed that “female bitchiness” is what kept Walcott down, that even his 1982 accuser (again, conduct Walcott admitted to) is a liar (and worse language than this is used), that–and this came from an Oxford Professor!–we can’t hold Walcott accountable, because basically every male poet of his age has sexually harassed and tried to sleep with his students, so what’s the big deal? And that’s exactly it. Had Walcott gotten this post, these opinions–that accusers of such misconduct are generally either sycophants who “wanted it” or liars or money-grubbers or attention-seekers, and that male professors should have free reign to abuse their power over their (sometimes teenage!) students to get themselves off–would be validated.

    9. All this said, I agree with those who feel Oxford should postpone the vote. The voters have the right to feel they are voting from the best pool possible, not the pool left to them when one of the candidates has resigned out of what appears to be an ongoing form of moral cowardice. It’s true–morality has nothing to do with art once that art is on the page; it does, however, have everything in the world to do with the instruction of the young. And a professor of literature asked to lecture to hundreds of students at a time is indeed being asked to instruct youth, and for this fact alone character is very much an issue. Those who seem to suggest that universities make hiring decisions without thought or reference to a candidate’s personal character are either being naive or else willfully disingenuous.

    S.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm RichardHowardNemerov wrote:

    The short answer is: no. Regardless whether the Oxford post involves actual classroom contact with students, by giving him the chair, Oxford would be saying to students, “Maybe someday you, too, can take advantage of your students over the course of your career, and get rewarded with this sweet gig.”

    What’s disturbing about this whole thing is less that Walcott is a scumbag, but that a host of institutions, from Oxford to Boston University, condone his behavior by continuing to employ him. He’s not alone among his peers, but how does he still have a job? Teaching? The disconnect is incredible.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm Oscar wrote:

    bizarre poet-less “poetry jam”?

    A blog post on how a smear campaign has led to a poet dropping from an open teaching position started by a smear on a poetry event at the White House. I wish Mr Nicols would go into detail as to why he thinks such an event would be bizarre instead of trying to come up with a quick jab at an event helps shine a positive light on diverse contemporary poetics in this country.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm RichardHowardNemerov wrote:

    Agree. There were poets there. Not, perhaps, your kind of poets? What’s up with that?

  • On May 13, 2009 at 1:03 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    Sorry about that strikethrough. What happened was that the first report I read said that there weren’t any poets performing–and then I wrote the thing up and saw later that the first post I read was wrong, that there were poets (not just James Earl Jones reading poetry). But rather than just change it and make it seem conspiratorial, I left it with the strikethrough, completely failing in basically everything except providing the link. So now I’m digging the hole even deeper, but just know that I wasn’t intending to smear a kind of poetry. The bizzareness (to me) actually stems from Michael Chabon’s rambling. Anyways. Apologies.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I have been in the thick of it over there, wondering if i had been overstepping the mark defending Walcott as i did, and decided, no.

    No, i am not, because it looks to me as though a wholly fabricated concern, under the cloak of anonymity, is being enacted by person/s underhanded, deceitful and moral cowards, in my book.

    On one hand you have a living nobel laureate, one of the world’s greatest poets working in the English language whose prose is on a par with Heaney’s.

    On the other we have a university paying a pittance for the role. Walcott could earn far more doing other things, but the role, traditionally, has been a place poets can shine, show off and deliver their thoughts in prose, and generally the highest most rarest of competitive gigs, only the creme de la creme get to attempt.

    However, in this case, dirty tricks is the order of the day, by the looks of it.

    Whoever sent the smear material to the Press and 50 to 100 voters, with a London postage stamp, i am guessing, they are not a *concerned* and selfless volunteer at Oxfam charity shop, who has read of Walcott and all of a sudden decided the students of Oxford should be shielded from this Nobel laureate.

    Guardian poster LeeJones has claimed there are two seperate campaigns, “one posted on that (Seth Abramson’s) blog was fabricated, presumably by the person(s) behind the distribution of the “Lecherous Professors” book. It was signed by two Oxford students, but I know for a fact that one of them never saw the letter, had never heard of her supposed co-signatory, and was appalled by it, asking the blog author to immediately remove it.”

    The second LeeJones’ claims (official and thus far anonymous one) without evincing any text or naming names, offering only a personal (anonymous) assurance that s/he received an e mail by:

    …concerned people who sent the email around their friends and colleagues asking them to reflect on Walcott’s past before casting their vote: it was entirely above board, merely called attention to widespread reports elsewhere, non-libellous, and did not ask readers to vote for anyone else..

    I have pointed out to LJ that on the evidence presented, we the Reader can only assume there is one smear campaign and not two, as LJ’s assurance, that an official e mail does exist, is not evidence in any sense whatsoever and thus the Reader believing only one campaign is in operation.

    ~

    But, how come with this race?

    Why is it in the rags, all this tripe gossip?

    Has some random saint ignored the killing and dying, the trade in human traffic, to ait anonymously a deep worry about Walcott? i do not think so.

    I do not imagine it is a group of volunteers who have forgone the material life for a reward in heaven, helping disadvantaged young women down on their luck, who in the spirit of the caring concerned bore decided to go to a lot of effort and cost, sending things through the post to a list of people they must have spent a lot of time tracking down, as a member of the public, or where handed by other equally concerned love and peace activists, full time demonstraters against the War.

    The only war here is the Poetry kind.

    No, the fact is it stinks to high heaven.

    As Ruth Padel rightly said, she only wanted a race on the real issues of what’s best for Oxo, her old common place of study, home of fair play where generations of Empire builders learned the skills of philanthropy, spreading peacable democracy equality and inclusion for all, love and peace merchants, as long as one were not awf in any way.

    Walcott is the victim here.

    ~

    My earliest alertness of this sideshow, was when I read a blog by an alumnus of Oxford and poet-member of the UK’s most well attended poetry forum, Anne. I do not know her surname, but it is clear she is not concealing it (she teaches), and is a known poet.

    This post at her blog, Squared, informs the reader of what she calls a hatchett job by British writer and commentator in the Independent newspaper, John Walsh, columnist there who does features, interviews and restaurant reviews and (as far as i am aware) EX-literary editor of the Sunday Times and EX-features editor of the London Evening Standard.

    This is in a 741 word article from Tuesday 28 April in Tales of the City (smear?) section, titled ‘She told him to get lost, he asked her to imagine them making love…’

    The first 144 words detail the history of the post, who set it up and touching on a few of the previous incumbents of the post, ending on Ricks departure.

    The next two paragraphs (130 words) tell us of who is supporting who and gets us up to speed on the current race:
    Oxford graduates are lining up like pompom-waving cheerleaders to vote their favourite candidates, the winner of which will get to sit in what Walsh terms Rick’s: vacated throne.

    He also tells us he is supporting my old friend (for queen), and after quoting chair of the English faculty board, Dr Sally Mapstone:

    “It would be a great privilege to have either of them as Oxford’s professor of poetry for the next five years.”
    …with the remaining 468 words, hatchets, whilst attempting to strike the tenor of a concerned bore; a private human individual being, who feels compelled, on his own volition, unprompted and impelled only by his concern for, well…erm, what exactly?

    Is he a volunteer at the Samaritans? Does he devote his free time to working for charities or bodies which address the issues he claims to be concerned about? Is it his life’s work, defending young women?

    As far as I am aware, what little I know of the jobbing hack, his main activities as a bore, are dining out and writing about it, reading books and writing about them, writing books, commenting in print on very serious and important matters of the day in a somewhat sneery tenor, (very much in the mode that, if he wasn’t a food critic, we the Reader would have him down as possessing the skills of Obama) and offering his support to old freinds in the rag he writes for.

    Anne’s blog-post which led me to the laughably transparent piece by Walsh, was musing on the race itself and only briefly mentions Walsh’s nonsense, correctly summing it up as:
    Though it touched on professorship, it had nothing to do with poetry.

    ~

    Padel’s supported by a queen’s official poet, who got into poetry first, at a very young age, as Jeanette Winterson tells us:

    At 16, she was dating the (Mersey Beat) poet Adrian Henri (then aged 39). She chose to study Philosophy at Liverpool to be near him. “He gave me confidence, he was great. It was all poetry and sex, very heady, and he was never faithful. He thought poets had a duty to be unfaithful.” She laughs, “Ive never got the hang of that.”

  • On May 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    Desmond,

    You are either getting facts wrong or misrepresenting them. I’ll assume the former. Read the current edition of The Cherwell (Oxford’s newspaper-of-record); it establishes the nature of–and existence of–the wholly above-board, non-anonymous e-mail campaign against Walcott. As to the anonymous note, it contained largely the same information as the public campaign, with the single difference that it included the phrase “proven sexual predator.” The rest, you can see for yourself, has nothing whatsoever factually objectionable in it:

    “You guys can make a difference to this election. There was a debate on the candidates on an arts programme here in UK, Night Waves, BBC Radio 3 on 29th April. On this programme, Professor Hermione Lee, Walcott’s main backer in the Oxford English Faculty, said that appointing Walcott would bring international honour to Oxford University because of his reputation.

    We are a group of women students at Oxford University and find this shocking and insulting. We would welcome your help, in demonstrating to the University and the British public, that Walcott’s sexual harassment and blackmail of women students are not mere “allegations,” as the British press assert, but a matter of record, with deeply offensive transcripts available in books and online.

    Quite the opposite of Professor Lee’s assertion, we feel that electing a proven campus sexual predator, who is on record as admitting harassment in at least two cases, would shame not honour Oxford. The post is voted for by teachers at Oxford University. We feel the English Faculty is suppressing Walcott’s record. No one in Oxford or Britain knows or believes it. We find it scandalous, almost unbelievable, that it is a woman educator who is Walcott’s chief supporter in Oxford and in public.

    You could email a letter, as American educators, to the Guardian Newspaper (letters@guardian.co.uk). It has run two stories on his candidacy without mentioning his sexual record. You could attach copies to the Oxford University Press Officer (Katie.Samuel@admin.ox.ac.uk) and Chair of English Faculty Sally Mapstone (sally.mapstone@ell.ox.ac.uk).

    The Guardian Newspaper (letters@guardian.co.uk) does not publish letters which only give an email address. You would need to include a full postal address, a reference to the relevant article (they have run two articles, “Race for Professor of Poetry at Oxford,” 16/3/09 and Thursday 23 April 2009) and a daytime telephone number (if you do not wish your email address published, please say so). The first piece, with a picture of Walcott (Monday 16 March 2009) is here. You can hear the Night Waves programme for three more days (here), or go to 29 Apr 2009 21:15–22:00, BBC Radio 3 (3 days left to listen) a programme which starts out on the philosopher Friedrich Engels. Or you can go directly to this link.”

    I’ll note, by the way, that a) I immediately removed the names appended to the note when asked to do so, b) I publicly, on my blog, indicated (in fact had already indicated, based on a prior story about Walcott) my disapproval of the term “predator,” and c) nothing in the phrase “proven sexual predator” is technically in error. Harvard investigated the 1982 claims and found them to have merit; thus, your “proven.” The allegations involved “sexual” misconduct; thus, your “sexual.” The term “predator” is the only iffy one, and then only because of U.S. law, which often denotes “predator” only when one is a serial abuser. In lay terms, however, any sexual misconduct by a professor toward a student is often termed “predation.” Likewise, one could–as I said above, and given your lack of information on this issue you should read the first comment in this thread–choose to read Walcott’s past as involving a series (meaning more than one) admitted-to incident. Certainly, anyone who wants to is entitled to take Walcott’s 1996 out-of-court settlement and subsequent (it seems) gag order as an implicit acknowledgment of some form of wrongdoing, following what was reported as his explicit confession in the 1982 affair.

    I would love to know, then, where you see the “smear” in even the anonymous e-mail campaign. Or are you charging, too, the authors of “The Lecherous Professor” (the book Walcott gets 5 pages in) with libel? If so, it’s interesting that Walcott isn’t alleging libel, but you are. That book has been around for years, too.

    S.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I am not alleging libel.

    There are three strands to this which i have written at length about for the last half an hour, and will not publish here as it is scoop material.

    The Cherwell letter by the group of (several) women students who found it shocking and insulting, and would welcome help, in demonstrating to the University and the British public, that Walcott’s sexual harassment and blackmail of women students are not mere ‘allegations,’ as the British press assert, but a matter of record, with deeply offensive transcripts available in books and online…(who claimed his appointement would)…shame not honour Oxford..(who, all several less one)..find it scandalous, almost unbelievable, that it is a woman educator who is Walcott’s chief supporter in Oxford and in public.”..

    ….is in the language of ultra teenage Feministazi, and the fact that there were only *several* of the nutters, who do not know the man and are damning him on the basis of what they read, did not experience, were no where near and probably not born when whatever did or did not happen occured or not.

    It is the essence of it, that a few stupid young women, can rant this shite, that will lead to them putting chips in our heads and prosecuting us for thought crimes next.

    The anonymous smear campaign (i am guessing) was not a good samaritan interested in protecting young women, i am guessing, because if they were, surely they’d be open about it if they had a history in this sort of carry on, the Saint routine. This sort of stuff is cowardly.

    Now Walsh is different. He wrote an article which stuck the boot in, whilst voicing support for his old friend.

    Now, if an old freind of mine, where going to write an article in which my rival for a plum role in a competitive election, i know they would inform me beforehand, and ask what i thought.

    I am not saying Walsh informed Padel of his own article, and do not care, as in the flame-fests the trick is to remain detached, and draw attention to ourselves, because as poets, that’s our job.

    lets not pretend we are concerned about young women being protected from Walcott, set ourselves up as knights in shining armour.

    The day all poets start speaking like a politically correct auto-drone, is the day at the end of the world, the day Poetry dies.

    Who is personally affected by this?

    It’s all bullshit, fake concern, Walcott is a great poet, and if people calling themselves poets wanna start talking about him as if they are morally superior and waffle ruibbish about the rights of anonymous young femistazis who talk shit, carry on, turn off drop in and tune out..

    where’s Reality in all this. The kids today, privilged drips at Oxo, spoilt little girls and Padel’s mate Walsh, does he really give a toss about this?

    The fakery, the faux outrage, who gives a flying fuk?

    I have done my bit, stopped the sneery British tossers pulling down a stag, and it will be interesting to see how you lot come down on this. If what gets writ is readable or not.

    slainte

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Quoting Seth Abramson:

    “Read the current edition of The Cherwell (Oxford’s newspaper-of-record)”

    That’s not how they describe themselves on their website:

    ‘Cherwell is the independent student newspaper of Oxford University, England. It was founded in 1920 by students Cecil Binney and George Edinger and has continued as a weekly publication during term-time to this day.’

    “The Cherwell … establishes the nature of–and existence of–the wholly above-board, non-anonymous e-mail campaign against Walcott.”

    This was never at issue. What now seems to be emerging is that, as well as a physical anonymously circulated dossier, there was also a parallel anonymous/pseudonimous email campaign.

    “As to the anonymous note, it contained largely the same information as the public campaign, with the single difference that it included the phrase “proven sexual predator.” The rest, you can see for yourself, has nothing whatsoever factually objectionable in it.”

    Well, that’s interesting — you mean that was the *only difference? And what do you precisely mean by the public campaign? I presume the one referred to by Emily Paddon in the Cherwell article.

    “a) I immediately removed the names appended to the note when asked to do so”

    According to LeeJones in the Guardian, you were asked by one of the “appalled” (false) signatories to remove the letter. (See Desmond Swords’ post above.) You removed the signatures but left the letter, neglecting to indicate that it had originally arrived on your blogstep with two false names attached.

    “Or are you charging, too, the authors of “The Lecherous Professor” (the book Walcott gets 5 pages in) with libel?”

    I’m becoming more and more perplexed by my inability to find the sources of that book in the Harvard Crimson. Perhaps you could help me here?

    RH.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm Oscar wrote:

    Thank you for the clarification, Mr Nichols.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    A few links:

    The Crimson article: Click here.

    The Lecherous Professor: Click here.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 4:09 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Desmond:

    Now Walsh is different. He wrote an article which stuck the boot in, whilst voicing support for his old friend.

    Now, if an old freind of mine, where going to write an article in which my rival for a plum role in a competitive election, i know they would inform me beforehand, and ask what i thought.

    Given the timing, I think there’s a simpler explanation. John Walsh’s piece in the Independent came out on the 28th April, about the time the Anonymously Circulated Dossier was posted.

    If he were one of the non-Oxford recipients, he probably promptly recycled it (without acknowledgement)in his article.

    He wouldn’t have had time to consult Padel, whom I’m prepared to believe would have disproved.

    Occam’s Razor, mate.

    RH.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 5:16 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Seth Abramson wrote in his first post here:

    On the Guardian blog, we are sagely informed that “female bitchiness” is what kept Walcott down

    The term used was “feminist bitchiness”, which while I find offensive, isn’t quite the same thing.

    that even his 1982 accuser (again, conduct Walcott admitted to) is a liar (and worse language than this is used

    Could you direct me to where this is said? I’ve been following the Guardian thread closely, and don’t recall this.

    Selective (mis)quotation is indicative.

    I’d agree that much of the tone and some of the phrasing is singularly offensive, on both sides of the debate, but it’s pretty much par for the course for a Guardian comment thread, and less extreme than could be found on many of the political threads there.

    The other two candidates seem less pleased than you are that Walcott has withdrawn, or been driven, from the election contest.

    That said, Walcott doesn’t seem to be best served by some of his defenders, whether as quoted in the national press, posting to comment threads, or publishing blogs.

    RH.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 6:10 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Ey, Robin! Over there!

    I still have The Lost Jockey on my desk, right here in front of me -

    DEAR BEWILDERED…

    I do not understand people, this I assume.
    My friends utter moral platitudes quite contrary
    To all they do – what am I to take from this?
    I have friends who are hypocrites? I mistake
    Their meanings? Or simply I am not good at people?

  • On May 13, 2009 at 6:22 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Aw, Henry, that’s sweet!! (blushing).

    And a breath of fresh air — I feel like I’ve been entombed since forever in The Walcott Sexual Harassment Narrative.

    I’ll email you backchannel soonest, and catch up — when I manage to find your email address. I’ve had multiple computer crashes since we were last in touch.

    Cheers, Robin

  • On May 13, 2009 at 6:33 pm Chuck Godwin wrote:

    Beware the anonymous accuser(s)!

  • On May 13, 2009 at 6:48 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Tom:

    A few links:

    The Crimson article: Click here.

    The Lecherous Professor: Click here.

    I hope that wasn’t intended as a response to my request for direction to the actual sources of “The Lecherous Professor”, as the link takes you to the 2007 Harvard Crimson retrospective issue, where the editors take the opportunity of the 25th anniversary gleefully to revisit the past. (It’s frequently used in attacks on Walcott by people too lazy to do more than check a single source.)

    I’d agree both links are relevant to the debate, and it’s good to have them provided.

    I’d post a link to Bruce King’s biography of Walcott, which among other things gives a nice picture of the response of Walcott’s colleagues at Boston to the matter (Susan Sontag and Brodsky among them) in 1982, but I can’t work out how.

    Anyone interested can see the relevant pages via Look Inside at amazon.com. When you get to the book, search on “harassment” for the relevant material.

  • On May 13, 2009 at 10:10 pm Terreson wrote:

    I am chuckling at the thought of the number of dead poets who, in likelihood, would be tickled by the thought that poets could ever be exemplars of moral rectitude, puritanical style. Villon comes to mind, as does Baudelaire, and Millay who pretty much f***ed her way through the Yellow Pages of Greenwich Village. Besides, Walcott is of an age when many college teachers pretty much diddled their way through school. Hasn’t anyone read
    the account of Abelard and Heloise? This is all silly stuff. There is nothing morally outstanding, in the puritanical way, about poetry and poets and for good reason. Were it otherwise there would be no poetry.

    Terreson

  • On May 14, 2009 at 3:16 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    “Given the timing, I think there’s a simpler explanation. John Walsh’s piece in the Independent came out on the 28th April, about the time the Anonymously Circulated Dossier was posted.

    If he were one of the non-Oxford recipients, he probably promptly recycled it (without acknowledgement)in his article.

    He wouldn’t have had time to consult Padel, whom I’m prepared to believe would have disproved.”

    ~

    Well Hamilton, that’s one possible scenario, but this “wouldn’t have had time to consult” what he calls his old freind business, is interesting.

    He wouldn’t have had the time to pick up the phone and ring her. Such an old friend, if he knew she would not approve, just went ahead with it anyway.

    Unless of course, he knew beforehand of the campaign?

    If Padel was involved in dirty tricks, the last thing that’s gonna happen is that she is gonna admit it.

    If she wasn’t involved in dirty tricks, the man who calls himself an old freind of hers, the food critics smearing, is not really such a good freind if he did something he knew she wouldn’t approve of.

    But then, this is Oxo, home of the free, the people who go on to become MP’s and little people like us, well, there’s that sense of privilege, the gaffe was set up by Kings to further the Royal project.

    That’s why the UK is in shit street, partly, because it is clearly trickling down from the top.

    You have a New Labour (old tory) government whose mantra is Equality and Fairness for all, unless your name is Windsor and then the rules do not apply.

    The Class system in Britain, if a handful of people, on lottery sized state benifits, who serve no purpose other than doing what they want, just stepped down out of the state apparatus, like adults, maybe this would be a start for things to be fairer.

    At the mo, you have a nation being told everything is essentially based on fairness, and then for their figurehead, have a person you must physically defer when in front of, call Your Highness, and this is conducive to everyone feeling they can fulfill the British Dream?

    The British Dream of becoming Queen?

    Well, seven people, 60 million others, no need for them to be there, and no wonder we have all the lies and bullshit. Its a racket, rigged, and if they can’t win fair, make no mistake, the apparatus will pull every stroke in the book, and here, it looks like the usual.

    Little drips can’t win, so get Marm to fix it coz s/he can, coz s/he’s the one who has the real power and toss the plebs an illusion of Fairness, but when push comes to shove, Marm, Her Highness, can just say, well, sorry, what i say goes.

    But who cares, the British house of commons now, there is no working class MP’s it’s all career trough feeders. Have you been following what’s been going on?

    They’re all at it, fiddling the expenses, because, well they deserve it, they are serving their Better and country.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 9:17 am Jennifer wrote:

    I have been concerned over the last 24 hours watching myself not want to enter into any conversation about this matter. It’s true that I’m always sorry when I write publicly here — but that’s not the reason. It’s also true that some of the people I studied under studied under and care about Walcott — but still, deference and regard for them is still only part of the quiet…

    It is, in actuality, because the fact is, that sexual harassment has at its core the unstated truth that women are powerless, that speaking up will be punished and that there is absolutely nothing to gain by entering into the conversation.

    I keep thinking about the family vacation I was on when the Anita Hill hearings were on TV. All the men were sitting in the living room, complaining that Thomas was unqualified for the job, but she should have nothing to do with it. All the women were in the kitchen telling stories about all the times it had happened to them. Eight women, not one without a story, even we youngest.

    It is a miserable thing to spend your days — for however long it lasts — under that specter.

    I just read a comment elsewhere that said, “don’t hit on your students, it will come back to haunt you.”

    That is a fallacy allowed to continue. Sexual harassment, like rape, is not about sex. It is about power.

    Poets are and will be and probably should be as crazy, labido driven and lusty as always — but professors must have a different responsibility.

    Girls and women are hurt. Some men too, I imagine. Baddly. The fact that this is not taken seriously is to all of our detriment.

    We’ve all seen it, we all know it is out there all over — but when we keep quiet, watch, hire, promote or defend, we are guilty too.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm thomas brady wrote:

    From “Love After Love”

    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.

    –D. Walcot

    “Harvard reprimanded Mr. Walcott and changed the student’s grade from C to ‘Pass.’”

    Professor Walcott’s Grading System?

    F: Failed To Be Anything But Ugly.

    D: Duty Will Not Do When Dull.

    C: Casting About For Some Reason Why She Could Not Love Me.

    B: Beautiful In Braid and Breath, Yet Blasé.

    A: At Which We Felt Strangers Will And Can Love.

    PASS: Pass Effected Which University Discovered

    Withdrawal: What Love Can Last?

    Incomplete: Infinite Desire Wishes Resolution!

  • On May 14, 2009 at 12:21 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for your post, Jennifer. I appreciate it. Particularly in the face of so much rage here.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 12:51 pm thomas brady wrote:

    The bad behavior of poets CANNOT be excused, though it often is, with 1) ‘good poets are often bad people.’

    This excuse does not fly because we CANNOT prove that 2) the badness of the bad person causes the good poetry.

    We ASSUME 1) is the same as 2). It is NOT.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 12:57 pm Don Share wrote:

    Seconded. Thank you, Jennifer.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 6:17 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I remember in my second year at university in my home town, aged 36, prematurely grey becuae of the Irish bit, doing a Writing Studies and Drama degree, most of my fellow students on the writing course, female, young, and 80% of the Drama cohort, females between the ages of 18-24.

    I was very aware of myself being old enough to being their dad, and because i was there for learning, a typical mature student who loved the course because i had spent the previous years 15 and more years in shitsville, going nowhere, a failure – i did not play any silly games.

    I was in the same boat as the 18 year olds fresh from high school, just a student with the same level of education, except i was, in their eyes, an old git, a weirdo, the butt of jokes (out of earshot) because of who i was.

    Clearly, they were the ones who knew what they were doing, the clever ones, because, look at us, they seemd to broadcast as they bestrode the stage of college life in their packs and gangs, young, ready to conquer the world.

    At this point i was still fresh to writing, wondering if it was the last self-deluded act of a man fast approaching middle age. I had played Malvolio on stage at 14 and by 16, was just like the kids i was with at college, arrogant, cocky, knew it all, a mouth that didn’t even have to think, could just bat right back, an uncosncious ability with language – going places.

    But alas, never focussing on my modest gift for dreamiong and speaking fantastical thoughts, the only rehearsal taking place in my head at the bar, an imagination like a fire, could take me out of reality and into the la la land of my hearts desire, all for free, never cost a cent, to escape into the mind and fabricate worlds in which i was not a failure, by traditional reckoning of how much cash you got, Mister?

    And as time passed by and the youthful bloom faded, each year worse than the next, a slow decline into a corner from whence i knew i would never flight, my sky-scraper dream from teenage years, when i firmly believed Spielberg was gonna come into my life, by 34 had dwindled to the size of a pinhead, a kernel of hope only i could sense and everyone else, not.

    So, the kids in class, i was the idiot, they had it all worked out, after all me dear geneutral generation, gender not an issue in the e mail age, knowing what is appropriate and what’s appalling. Things like saying Hi Babes, perfectly acceptable, after all, the perfectly glossed cool young people, the Real gods we experience electronically, live, all say it.

    Dressing in the highest fashion, Padel in her lioness peak mid-eighties, a mane of blonde hair, this relation of Darwins, underpivileged oxford graduate, looked like a woman who’d just stepped off a photo-shoot, in the sisterhood, equal to the Man yuks who do the poor lidle ole ladies living a ethical life, interested only in fair play and no prejudice based on gender, escaping the box, not complying with the old ways, not conditioned by Man, oh no, clever ones.

    ~

    So, in the second year i was put in a group, our first Group work for a collaborative project, the weirdy old guy, ooh, look at him, us 19 and him, i bet, you know, we’ll have to be careful round him. We’ve seen the TV dramas, we know about life, 8 hours a day in front of a box telling us how Reality is (not). We learn, i saw the shows with the actors we know, second hand mediated through a tube reality, intelleigent us lot, not like those who came before us who had not the TV Reality where all is black and white morality we ape, shaping us.

    I ended up in this group of me and three young 19 year old women, after being chosen last, all the popular kids who knew what they were doing as artists, young good looking, didn’t work too much coz they’re too busy being part of the smart set, getting far and going places by the way they see on TV, gonna get discovered, picked from obscurity on their looks alone, coz Young = Talented innit?

    And in the first rehearsal, i came with an audio recorder and some ideas, and the young ones tip toes in nervously, not knowing me, the loner old guy, and being there for the real learning, spoke straight, my ideas, but they immediately froze and so i shut up, as they did not want to listen as they thought i had an agenda perhaps, about them, their minds filling with scenarios off the TV in which three 19 year old women are alone in a room with a 36 year old man. What was i gonna do to them?

    My idea was that we record the rehearsal and i would listen back to it to see if there wa any natural dialogue i could pull out of it, because i had just seen a show which did exactly that.

    Peopel were recorded in interview by the actor, normal joes and janes on the street and the actors, with a head piece relaying the audio, spoke their words, acted reality and it was a very impressive show, so that was my thinking.

    I listened to them jangle and decided it was a bit of a wste of my time, i had pitched my ideas and they froze, the ideas innocuous enough, genuine, nothing remotely daring or scary, just my presence putting them off, their problem, paranioa, not my own.

    So i leave my recorder and slide off to the next door studio and start rehearsing on whatever poem was coming out at that time. For the first four years, every poem that came, i worked on it live, editing orally and committing it to memory, making sure it worked as a spoken piece of Art.

    But being a poet, people get the worng idea, they hear you decaliming and their fears, if you are not strong, it’s you that ends up feeling somehow in the wrong, the weirdo as the straighter artist drones all agreeing isn’t it appalling, look on.

    I return 15 minutes later and the gals are gone.

    Next day, i get an e mail from the head of the dept, asking me to come in for a chat about the previous afternoon rehearsal with the gals.

    I don’t mind telling you, i was very worried, wondering what they may have said, because smearing is common when your a kid, especially with older men and young women, who can say blah blah blah, and use their gender to hide behind.

    I get there and she says, the girls had been to see her, and were concerned about the recording device i had, and that i vanished from the room, acting weird, and basically very *concerned* about my behaviour.

    I burst into laughter and told her what had really happened and said, it is all OK, because it’s all been recorded and she can listen for herself.

    At this point the head of the dept could see exactly wehat had happened, some silly oversensitive women fed on a diet of TV Reality had got carried away with their fantasies.

    I left bouyant, and went ot the student shop, by the bar, where 70% of the cohorts spent most of their time at college, and as i was walking up the corridor, saw all three of them coming towards me, sheepish, head down, and i laughing – as i approached them said:

    Hey, i am sorry if you thought i was a bit weird,

    and immediately they mumbled, apologetic little girls who had got me 100% wrong, knew it and felt stupid.

    Just my own experience. we (men) are not all like the ones in the movies and on TV you know, gals..

  • On May 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm G The Art Spy wrote:

    I am not convinced that Walcott’s poetry is really that good; his “OMEROS” (sp) is boring–that is from my brief perusal of it once in a book store. His work seems not urgent, not immediate, not even engaged with itself, not even lush so critcs often call that–that is bumping into his shorter lyric stuff online or in mags once in a long while.

    He did not deserve the post anyway, and he lives in America, so who cares about his going to Oxford.

  • On May 14, 2009 at 8:46 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    It may be that either on the grounds of his behavior or his poetry he “did not deserve” the post – but the guy wrote poems for over half a century, so even his casual detractors might need to judge him on more than Omeros; and also: he was born in and still lives in St. Lucia – part of the UK at the time of his birth, and an associated state of the UK until it achieved independence in 1979.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 2:31 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Today brings us something new.

    The person who accused Walcott in 1996 has just published an article in the TimesOnline:

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6288023.ece

    This begins: “I am appalled and saddened by the anonymous smear campaign against my former mentor Derek Walcott.”

    Among other things, the account given by the woman herself there of the 1996 incident differs markedly from that generally propounded.

    Also, since Walcott has withdrawn from the race, people seems to be less inclined to accept Ruth Padel’s assurances that she was in no way connected to the anonymous circulation of the photocopied pages from “The Lecherous Professor”:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/15/oxford-poetry-professor-walcott-padel

    I’m prepared to accept Padel’s assurances that she had no knowledge of the unofficial anonymous campaign, but the Law of Unintended Consequences has kicked in. What started as a smear campaign against Walcott now seems to be turning into a similar attack on Padel.

    RH.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 2:53 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Yesterday, I sent a post to Seth Abramson’s blog Suburban Ecstasies, with regard to his questioning of the correct meaning of the word “smear”.

    As this post did not appear, I assumed that I had failed to send it correctly.

    When I attempted to resend it today, I was greeted by the following message:

    “New comments have been disabled for this post by a blog administrator.”

    As a result, I am unable to post the following directly.

    *****************

    As a British reader, I might refer you to the OED, SMEAR (n) 4.b: “c. A slanderous or defamatory remark; an attempt to defame by slander. colloq. (orig. U.S.),” which in turn would send us back to “slanderous”.

    I think as it is used in this case (and for better or worse it’s become the term of choice for the MSM reporting the issue), it connotes a mixture of truth and falsity used with malice aforethought.

    When I began looking into this whole sorry business, I was at least prepared to accept that the transcripts published in “The Lecherous Professor” were accurate.

    Since identifying at least one clear example of the authors’ misinterpreting their own material, and being unable to find their sources in the electronic archives of the Harvard Crimson, I’m becoming sceptical even of this. There is at least some degree of sloppy scholarship involved in the book.

    (Footnote 25 on p. 233, noting their [three referenced] sources with regard to Walcott, is a lulu – I still can’t work out whether what they’re referencing is the 1982 Commencement issue of the Crimson or the 2007 Commencement Issue referring *back to 1982! Does anyone have access to physical copies of the 1982 Harvard Crimson? I’m still just barely prepared to believe that this is the result either of my inability to find what I want in the electronic archives or that the material never reached the electronic archives.)

    But this does suggest one reason why, in this electronic age, reference wasn’t simply made to the on-line text. (The relevant pages can be accessed via amazon.com.) Sending around photocopied pages in an anonymous letter kicks-in a defence mechanism which rather laxly assumes that what is being defended . Whereas sending an academic a reference to a text … Go figure.

    Walcott seems to be singularly ill-served by his inept defenders.

    ************************

    RH

  • On May 15, 2009 at 4:30 am Ian wrote:

    “I am chuckling at the thought of the number of dead poets who, in likelihood, would be tickled by the thought that poets could ever be exemplars of moral rectitude, puritanical style.”

    They don’t have to be “exemplars of moral rectitude, puritanical style” but they should not be sexually harassing their students.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 6:22 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Boy, has the shit *ever hit the fan! And still less than twenty-four hours after Walcott withdrew.

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23692488-details/The+hounding+of+a+Nobel+poet+has+shamed+Oxford/article.do

    Not an anonymous accusation this, but James Fenton, ex-journalist, poet, and former Professor of Poetry at Oxford, citing sources, providing quotations, and giving precise dating.

    … only it’s not the Walcott Sexual Harassment Narrative but
    Padel-Knew-About-It-All-the-Time.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with Fenton that Padel knew about the Anonymous Campaign, and I’d reverse his sequencing of the link between John Walsh’s Independent article of April 28th and the physically-posted dossier, but he does back up his points. Helps to have been a professional journalist, I suppose.

    One of the many sad things about this is that an election contested by a woman poet, an Afro-Caribbean poet and an Indian poet has become throughly tainted.

    Who benefits from this? I’ve been aware for some time that race was certainly at issue in the original treatment of the 1982 Harvard accusation — at the time, a Harvard student wrote to the Crimson drawing attention to the fact that the only two cases of sexual harassment, in a faculty of predominantly white teachers, had been brought against black
    professors. I’m not entirely sure that race isn’t *still part of the issue.

    Anyway, consequences intended or not — Walcott’s withdrawal has shifted the focus. Be interesting to see how it continues to play out.

    It’s messy enough already, but it looks set to become much, much worse.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 8:24 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Continued …

    Quoting myself elsewhere:

    “What more and more strikes me is that we are (leaving the penumbra of blogs and gossip aside) confronted by both inept scholarship and inept [with the exception of James Fenton] journalism.

    {As an aside, I don’t agree with Fenton’s conclusions in the Standard aticle, but he does seem to have done his homework.}

    Nobody seems (surprise, surprise) to have actually looked at the “scholarship” behind _The Lecherous Professor_.

    As to journalism, it’s a little unnerving that the best documented piece on the current events is still that published in a student newspaper:

    http://www.cherwell.org/content/8744

    Oh bloody hell, just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, the person involved in the 1996 suit just posted this to the Cherwell:

    “Derek Walcott” by Nicole Mary Kelby
    Posted: 16:12 GMT, Thu 14th May 2009
    I wish you all would reconsider the vote on Saturday. Derek deserves better than this smear campaign.
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6288023.ece

    You really *couldn’t make this stuff up!!!

    (Yeah, I know, “How come we know this isn’t a false name?” but I’d credit the kids on the Cherwell with having at least the nous to back-check the author of this — N.M.Kelby isn’t that difficult to contact.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 8:41 am thomas brady wrote:

    I think we should let Alan Cordle get to the bottom of this.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 8:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    Ian,

    Agreed. If you’re going to be sexually randy, be an author, not a professor.

    Edgar Allan Poe has been smeared in broad daylight for decades and no one gives a damn.

    Walcott? Shrug.

    I couldn’t care less who is Professor of Poetry at Oxford. It’s just amusing to see the professorial squabbling.

    Thomas

  • On May 15, 2009 at 9:59 am Annie Finch wrote:

    “Sexually randy” is not the point. The point is an extremely powerful older poet who has been entrusted by a university with a position of authority, responsibility, and mentorship and uses it systematically to prey sexually on young poets at the most vulnerable stage of their poetic lives, denying them fair grades and helpful reference letters (I have anecdotal evience for this in at least one case where the student who had formerly had “A” status in his class was refused a helpful reference letter after refusing one of his obscene offers), potentially weakening and shaking their poetic voices and self-confidence, and potentially longterm sullying their sense of themselves as poets. That Walcott did this routinely for many many years has been attested repeatedly, both by women who have come forth publicly and by those who were too afraid or exhausted to do so. And it is part of a much wider pattern that was prevalent for decades in the late twentieth century in creative writing programs. Sexaully randy has nothing to do with it. It is violent, bullying, aggressive behavior, not passionate behavior. Like rape, there is nothing cute or sexy about it. It’s only right, and inevitable, that the truth will come out.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 10:36 am Alicia (AE) wrote:

    Apologies if this has already been covered and I missed it… but just to clarify what the Oxford professorship actually consists of: three open lectures and the judging of the Newdigate prize. It does not involve teaching classes or giving tutorials or grades to students, though student poets might seek the professor out. It is an elected position and any Oxford graduate may vote. For what it is worth in the discussion.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 12:01 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    Oh, good grief. “Just when I think I was out, they pull me back in!”

    We’re applauding Fenton’s journalism? Oh my; I think the greater danger here now is to standards of investigation in UK journalism, rather than whether Oxford’s standards for hiring will now differ from Harvard’s (which said publicly in 1982 that it would be “reluctant” to re-hire Walcott based on its investigation and findings; perhaps universities in the U.S. don’t make a habit of hiring prospective visiting professors with–as Nicole Kelby, his former student, now calls it–a “sexual” style of teaching? Not usually something one mentions in the job interview, is it).

    Fenton wrote:

    “As far as the old allegations were concerned, he had never told his side of the story and he did not propose to do so now. He did not want to cause embarrassment to his supporters.”

    Really? Is Google News (“All Dates”) available in the UK? Or can we only read the 1982 Time Magazine article in which Walcott talks about what happened in detail only available in the states?

    Likewise, when Fenton says this all happened “decades” ago, is this meant to include the half a million dollar civil lawsuit for sexual harassment that Walcott settled out of court–so that there would never be an in-court finding–in 1996? Perhaps in the US time is reckoned differently.

    The Nicole Kelby bit is undoubtedly the very best. Especially as it’s now led The Cherwell–which is being applauded here for its research–to say, in an editorial, that Walcott should still be considered for the post, he should just be barred from ever meeting with students. If that doesn’t bring honor to Oxford, what will? A professor with a “sexual” style of teaching who can’t be allowed near any of the students he’s lecturing to! Genius.

    After Harvard investigated and found the 1982 allegations “had merit,” after it “admonished” Walcott, and after Walcott then offered immediately to resign from his job at BU (curious, that!), Harvard announced–I repeat–it would be “reluctant” to ever re-hire him. But why should Harvard’s bare-minimum 1982 sexual misconduct standards hold up 27 years later at Oxford, right? We haven’t come very far in gender relations, anyway–particularly if the articles and comments on the Guardian, Times UK, Independent, etcetera are any indication.

    Of course, standards of journalism haven’t come very far either.

    Do any of our UK friends on the blog doubt any of this? Please, just use Google (try “Derek Walcott” and “sexual” and [All Dates]). You can even use the US one, if you like. The UK one appears to be broken for now.

    Seth

    P.S. Let it be said again, as evidently it can’t be said enough: I don’t give a whit about Walcott’s morals, or lack of morals–until he wants a job which involves providing instruction to the young. I still remember, from when I was a law student, a Corporations professor of mine at Harvard making a racist joke in class about Asians; when the joke was over, he continued on in his lecture–on business ethics! Was it reasonable for me to suddenly feel doubt as to whether this was the man who should be instructing me on ethics? Or that his instruction would be anything I’d be safe taking to heart? And this was simply a straight-up lecture class–just the sort of educational employment Walcott’s position would entail. Does anyone think a lecture on poetry doesn’t require, to some degree, the force of character behind it for students to be moved to trust the veracity and wisdom of what’s being said? Would you want Hemingway to lecture you on how to navigate a writer’s life? Read his work, of course, attend his readings, yes, but Hemingway would have been miscast in an instructive role, no doubt. So too, Walcott. And Harvard agrees, apparently.

    I’m reminded, too, of Boston’s former radical-conservative talk-radio host Jay Severin (since fired for making racist comments about Mexicans on-air), who in the early 2000s used to bring a friend of his on the program regularly: he called him “Professor X.” The reason Professor X couldn’t and wouldn’t give his name is because he was being brought on the show solely (solely! imagine this program) to talk about his exploits sleeping with his undergraduate students (literally, Jay’s something of a sicko, and he brought Professor X on as a regular guest because, as he said, he thought Professor X was living “every man’s dream”). So tell me, why, in the US, is Professor X appearing only on a radical-right radio show known for sexism, homophobia, and racism–and even then, won’t give his name under any circumstances!–but in the UK, you get the second-highest post in poetry in the entire nation for pursuing the same “dream”? Why is that?

  • On May 15, 2009 at 12:18 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I don’t care whether Walcott propositions young women or even whether he sleeps with his students. But when he uses his power over their academic success to punish them if they refuse, of course this is no longer a matter remotely describable under the usual boring objections to “political correctness.”

    That said, what could be more anti-feminist & platitudinous than to believe that the women in question are so weak & fragile that what is at stake is not their academic success & their right to pursue their education free from bullying manipulation but the prospect of “potentially weakening and shaking their poetic voices and self-confidence, and potentially longterm sullying their sense of themselves as poets.” This is psychobabble, & does women a disservice, as does the astonishing claim (in Mayday) that women are “afraid to commit their critical opinions to print for fear of attack.” I wonder why more women aren’t objecting publicly (I’ve heard from some privately) to Annie’s consistent portrayal of women as delicate flowers whose self-conceptions are entirely dependent upon men. The women poets & critics I know would find such condescension an objectionable reinforcement of sexist norms.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 12:18 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Finch, i don’t get what you’re ranting at.

    Thus far there are two cases in the public realm, one of whom, Nicole Kelby, involved in the original hoo ha at Harvard in 1982, wrote an article that appeared in Wednesday’s Times, titled: Derek Walcott is the greatest living poet

    She states:

    I am appalled and saddened by the anonymous smear campaign against my former mentor Derek Walcott. Everyone has a right to face his or her accusers. Thats why I sued Boston University. I wanted to discover if Professor Walcott was actually harassing me. At first, I thought he was joking.</em?

    So, here we have one half of his total public record, coming out saying she is appalled, that she thinks he is the greatest poet going and stating she sued, not because she thought he was harrassing her, but because she was confused. At Harvard, where there’s a lot of potential lolly to had for people who sue.

    Her case is hardly the sort of thing you are trying to infer with your rant now is it?

    If you are so concerned, why not go and volunteer at places where Real harrassment happens?

    Do you volunteer at a refuge anyplace?

    What do you do apart from feel appalled, please? I mean you’re so bothered about this, obviously you must be doing 20 hours a week on the streets helping the poor?

    If not, may i politely suggest, you are engaging in peddling heresay and tittle tattle.

    Anecdotal evidence is things we repeat for benign topics, such as the dissapearance of bees, scientific studies relating to changing weather patterns, not that you have anecdotal evidence that someone is a sexual predator.

    ~

    And the reason i feel so strongly about this, is that i have been the subject of harrassment because of my gender, by a person who thinks they are a very powerful and large presence on the poetry scene in Britain, who owns the main poetry forum there and who slung me out of it for no reason whatsoever, apart from what i can only assume as jealousy.

    This woman, who claims to be in the sisterhood, i know of at least one young poet 20 years her junior, also a woman, who wrote telling me that she was told by the said large presence on the British poetry scene, that she would never appear in print as long as the said large editorial presence had anything to do with it.

    I detailed my own claims of underhanded treatement on this very blog, it may have even been one of yours, and it stayed up a week and was then removed, i am assuming because one of the two persons named in it, got upset and whinged. But as you say, it was the truth and has been outed.

    Also, i have a blog post about meter for one of your posts here, in which i discuss how an Irish elocution and an English one of the same word, KAV-an-agh, for example, which in Irish is a dactyl and with some English speakers

    ka-VAN-agh – is an amphibrach.

    For some reason it was the only post of mine that did not appear. At that point i was on some kind of moderation, and it is strange, i thought, here is a post relevant and pertinent and yet, does not appear. Why, i wondered.

    I think it’s all hoo ha and fake concern, unless anyone here can demonstrate a genuine involvement with the cause they are ranting about, in Reality, rather than just mouting platitudes about it.

    slainte

  • On May 15, 2009 at 1:12 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    I agree with you. I wasn’t playing down “the bullying” aspect by saying “sexually randy.” Yea, “sexually randy” in the context of ‘professor’ IS “bullying” or whatever else you want to call it. One doesn’t even have to get into the whole ‘sex is power’ argument here, nor does one have to depict Walcott as a monster. My formula was intentionally simple.

    Thomas

  • On May 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    I enjoyed your story about you and the 19 year old female classmates. I’m glad it had a happy ending. It sounded to me like you were pre-judging them as much as they were pre-judging you.

    As for the 1982 recantation, we can’t trust that; Walcott was not the “greatest living poet” in the eyes of this woman back in 1982. The facts are different.

    Thomas

  • On May 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm Elizabeth wrote:

    Well put.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Seth,

    Please stop instructng us to look at google News (all dates) and have a look at the process applied by Harvard in 1982.

    It’s really not that difficult.

    Didn’t your grandmother teach you to look at the primary sources?

    [Sheesh, what do they teach children about scholarship these days?]

    RH.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    … and if you’re dragging up material from the google News archives, what about the lady who wrote in 1982 to the NYT complaining about how Walcott was unfairly traduced since his accusor was granted anonymity but he was not?

    Ask your grannie about context …

    I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but it’s not that some of us don’t know what you’re saying but that, simply, we don’t agree with your reading of the evidence.

    RH.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 4:55 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    Robin,

    No. You are not entitled to your own facts.

    Read the Time and New York Times articles from 1982. Walcott admitted he had a conversation alone with the girl on the date and time alleged, that there was a “tone” to the conversation which he didn’t “intend” to be offensive, that that tone was created by a “quip” he made about an encounter she had with her boyfriend. When you read the accuser’s recitation of the facts you realize she and Walcott aren’t in disagreement–it’s simply that she’s been specific about what was said, and he used euphemisms. We know that Harvard University, arguably the pre-eminent university in the world and one of its richest (if not the richest), complied with the employment-law due process requirements in the U.S. and conducted a full investigation into the matter. This involved interviewing both the student and Walcott. The result of this inquiry was a) a formal finding of “merit” to the allegation, b) a formal “admonishment” of Walcott, c) a statement by Harvard that it would, in light of what had happened, be “reluctant” to re-hire Walcott, and d) an immediate announcement from Walcott that he would resign from his job at Boston University if asked.

    We also know that the only thing which kept the 1996 allegations from being put to the test was that Walcott–Derek Walcott himself–decided to settle the half a million dollar lawsuit out of court. Settling a lawsuit out of court need not be proof of an acknowledgment of guilt, but no one is entitled to say that it is only the fault of the 1996 accuser that the facts of that situation never came out. It is Walcott as much as anyone who saw to that.

    And what do we hear from Walcott defenders, for instance on the Guardian website? We hear: a) the 1982 charges were never proven [false], b) all the allegations are from “decades” ago [false], c) Walcott has never spoken of the 1982 incident [false], d) the anonymous “smear campaign” contained demonstrably untrue material [false], and more. You asked about my (deceased) grandmothers; didn’t someone teach you to recognize when neither the original sources, nor sources about the original sources, not any subsequent sources, support your version of the facts?

    S.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Abramson, you should of stuck to the law, Poetry doesn’t suit you.

    All this talk, from a person who calls themself a poet, who speaks like a lawyer, saying nothing about Poetry, but everything about his own petty mindedness.

    Of course, Hitler, well you know, blah blah blah.

    Me of course, i am a saint.

    No doubt Boramson may come back with, well actually i think you’ll find that if you look at the ins and outs of a blue arse fly, you’ll actually find para 2 subsection 1o states, i am a person with no visible artistry, and lacking that, waffle on about the rights and wrongs of these people i fake an interest in.

    Your mate Evans Bush has been on the same jag, talking nonsense, not naming names, gossiping Rumour she got off you.

    And what galls, is that people like her, when her pals where pulling all the tricks trealted to not being supportive and not giving a fuk about me when i was trying to learn, doing my own thing on their sites, she didn’t say a dickie, but as soon as she and people like you, who know your limit, a very minor note in the grand scale, what you do is let your jealousy get the better of you and decant it into laughably obvious fake concern, reading like a law book and not the poet you pretend to be.

    Evans Bush, in her little huddle, talking as if this is appalling, ranting on zip, and yet, when Real unfairness occurs right under her nose, when its her pals dishing it out, she doesn’t say a word.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 6:11 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    Um, what?

    S.

  • On May 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    There is an American woman in Britain, KEB, claims she is your pal..

    [editing in]

    ..sorry, is quoting you at least twice.

    yeah, sorry for being a dit harsh, you are great, i am only pretending.

    carry on..you are a great Poet Seth, i am just a fantasist

  • On May 16, 2009 at 3:02 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Seth,

    They aren’t “my” facts.

    The fullest account of the 1982 incident seems to be contained in “The Lecherous Professor”, which prints the accusation that the unnamed Harvard student made against Walcott, and a letter later written to her by the Assistant Dean, Marlyn Lewis.

    It’s available on-line:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=Cy9g0huofa0C&pg=PP1&dq=lecherous+professor&ei=UlgOSsr3M6XEzgTbns2HCw#PPA31,M1

    Rather than rehashing this once more, I’d simply direct anyone interested to that. Inter alia, it demonstrates what Harvard considered “due process” in 1982 — reading the accusation over the telephone, asking for a response, passing the material to Dean Rovosky, and passing back his judgement. Due process? Seems to me a bit inadequate, and hardly surpringly, neither party, the unnamed complainant not Walcott, seem to have been particularly happy with how the complaint was dealt with.

    As to: “We also know that the only thing which kept the 1996 allegations from being put to the test was that Walcott–Derek Walcott himself–decided to settle the half a million dollar lawsuit out of court,” compare that statement with what N.M.Kelby (Nicole Niemi) herself wrote in the Times two days ago, on 14th May.

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6288023.ece

    Exactly what did or did not happen in 1982 is fogged — what is still transpiring at the moment is all too clear.

    (Well, not entirely — I’d be interested to know how the figure of “200″ recipients of the Anonymous Dossier was reached. The earliest reference I can find to this is in the Cherwell, where it’s given as “50 to 100″. Currently it stands at 200. Did two hundred separate people come forward to state that they had received copies? A small point, I admit, but characteristic of how in this issue, assertion is taken as fact, and then embellished.)

    Enough.

    RH.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 5:54 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    An aside …

    About the only people to emerge from this entire sorry mess with any credibility are student journalists, the kids running the Harvard Crimson in 1982 and the current editors of Cherwell.

    Even in the 2007 issue of the Crimson, they went to the trouble of actually asking people what they remembered from 25 years earlier.

    Not their fault that what usually gets quoted from that issue is their gleeful rehash of the 1982 material rather than the bemused response of a professor thinking back, “Wasn’t that some sort of dispute over grades?”

    The result of those student journalists putting their necks on the line in 1982 was that they levered Harvard into instituting a *proper set of procedures for investigating sexual harassment.

    Credit where it’s due, they were risking a hell of a lot more than people like Seth who simply advance Chinese Whispers on the Web of a Thousand Lies.

    But things change — the Crimson articles in 1982 were signed.

    RH

  • On May 16, 2009 at 6:17 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Chinese Whispers — my favourite version of this is that the student who accused Walcott in 1982 was wired for sound, recorded what he said, and within hours of Walcott’s receiving the Nobel Prize denounced him.

    You couldn’t make this up …

    Well, not unless you’re writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education or the Independent.

    RH.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 6:50 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Desmond, with friends like you, Walcott doesn’t *need enemies.

    Unlike you, I’m well out of the gaeltacht penumbra, not having the gaelic, but I have in my time rhymed rats to death.

    I gave up writing killer poems when I realised that I had the capacity for writing poems which would drive poeple to suicide.

    You, in contrast, seem to have developed the capacity to *bore them to death.

    David ap Gwyllem would be ashamed of you.

    Robin

  • On May 16, 2009 at 8:34 am Travis Weekes wrote:

    You’re wrong.Derek walcott lives on the island of St. Lucia where he was born and raised. You’re also wrong about “Omeros” It is far from boring. Take time to read it and do some research about St. Lucia and the Caribbean.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 10:26 am Robin Hamilton wrote:

    This has now gone well beyond a joke — even Ruth Padel’s supporters are now calling on her to withdraw:

    “Even one of Padel’s own nominators, philosophy professor AC Grayling, believes the election should be postponed.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/16/oxford-poetry-professor-election-goes-ahead

    This is seriously clusterfuck territory.

    – the Swiftboating of Walcott has emerged into the open, and the attacks on him look to be seriously engaged with at last.

    Law of Unintended Consequencies, anyone?

    Much as I dislike and distrust Oxford academics as a group {and in my book, they rate only slighly behind St Andrews when it comes to academic credibiltity}, you have to credit them with a certain bulldog persistence.

    This particular Oxford Boat Race may elevate the (non) lectures [not to be]delivered by Walcott to the stature of those by A.C.Bradley, Housman, Auden, Robert Graves, and Peter Levi.

    “Wot larks, Pip!”

    RH

  • On May 16, 2009 at 12:49 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Michael, thanks for this comment. I started putting together A Formal Feeling Comes almost twenty years ago, so it makes sense that statements based on remarks made by those contributors don’t speak for a newer generation of women poets who are more relaxed about putting forth their opinions. I’ll ask Kent to revise the sentence to clarify its full context.

    As for your other point, today we all still teach some young women poets who are quite vulnerable, especially those who have already been sexually abused in their homes or elsewhere, and I think it is quite reasonable to say that to have a revered poetry mentor in a position of authority treat them this way doesn’t only damage their academic chances but also has the potential to shake their confidence as poets. The reason this is of concern to me is not only for ths sake of their individual psychologies, but also for the sake of mitigating widespread imbalances of male and female behavior in the poetry world (such as assertiveness in sending out their poems, networking with potential mentors etc), the kind of thing that leads to the imbalances discusssd in the post on Numbers Trouble a couple of years ago.

    I appreciate the frankness and thoughtfulness of your remarks, and your engaging these concerns so seriously.

    Annie

  • On May 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Desmond,

    Just to clarify, bloggers on Harriet don’t filter the comments on their threads, so I have no idea what happened to your lost comment. As for this discussion, my original comment was focused on the use of the word “randy,” which Tom has already addressed.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 2:58 pm Seth Abramson wrote:

    Wow.

    The level of self-delusion here is absolutely crushing to observe.

    In any case, it’s a dead issue. My own opinion was that the vote should be postponed so that new nominations could be made, but it has not been, and Padel seems certain to be the winner now. For what it’s worth, I very much suspect she was involved in–explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly–the campaign against Walcott, but given the number of logical fallacies on such happy display in some of the posts above, I won’t add to that stock the genetic fallacy: that of assuming the final result is tainted or unwise or inaccurate simply because some of those who helped bring it about had ulterior motives. A person with Walcott’s professional dossier would have a hard time getting a job as an educator in the U.S. (though not an impossible one), because whenever one applies for a job as a professor one’s history as a professor is considered; Oxford has done nothing more than say that, while we respect your poetry, Derek, we’re not certain your “sexual” style of teaching (Cf. Nicole Niemi) is appropriate for the world’s foremost educational institution. We look forward, instead, to continuing to read your work and attend your lectures and learn from your interviews and so on.

    In the end, Walcott knows what he’s done, he knows what he is, and he knows that if this is the greatest price he must pay for the way he’s treated women for the past 30 years, it’s a trifle, really. I wouldn’t shed any crocodile tears for this particular winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    S.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Seth –

    The numbers are in, and about 300 voted for Padel, 150 for Mehrotra, and 51 people went to the trouble of turning in spoiled ballot papers.

    Go figure.

    As to: “I wouldn’t shed any crocodile tears for this particular winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature …”

    Another way of putting this would be that Walcott is the only living Nobel Prize Winner for Literature who writes in English.

    Who gained, who loses?

    Oxford, Walcott, Padel …

    RH.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 7:50 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    Seth:

    “given the number of logical fallacies on such happy display in some of the posts above, I won’t add to that stock the genetic fallacy: that of assuming the final result is tainted or unwise or inaccurate simply because some of those who helped bring it about had ulterior motives.”

    Having gone to some trouble to untangle the convoluted syntax of that statement, I can only conclude that what you are referring to is not the genetic fallacy but the view that sacraments delivered by a flawed priest are nevertheless valid.

    Otherwise I quite frankly haven’t the least idea what you’re on about.

    Oh, I forgot you were a lawyer once, and are perhaps referring to the idea that in a jury of twelve, the possibilty that one member therein is more guilty than the person accused does not mean the verdict should be annuled.

    Enlighten me, I pray.

    RH.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 8:33 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    I think part of the problem here may be contextual. When I think of the term “the genetic fallacy”, I assume it’s used with regard to linguistics — the idea that words only mean what they meant in the language in which they were first used.

    Thus, “delapidated” should strictly mean bricks falling off a wall.

    But perhaps you meant something other than this?

    It would have helped if you had provided enough context in your original statement to work out just what the hell you were on about.

    RH.

  • On May 16, 2009 at 8:45 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Doesn’t Heaney write in English?

    Walcott voluntarily withdrew from the election. As far as I can see, Walcott’s defenders only address 1982 and 1996. They cannot possibly know all of Walcott’s actions pertaining to this issue. So even Walcott’s defenders are simply not equipped to defend him. Walcott is the only one who does. Rather than defend himself, he chose to withdraw. End of story. Let’s move on.

    If you like Walcott’s poetry, read it. What’s an appointment to Oxford got to do with anything?

  • On May 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm Terreson wrote:

    Can’t imagine my comments will win me any friends among those of you so deeply invested in the scene. I’ve read the thread a few times trying to make sense of the scandal, the details, the principals, the secondaries, and the dynamics. I’ve followed up on some, not all, of the posted links. And right now I am thinking: this is pretty much why I’ve stayed out of the poetry scene for decades, the academic as well as the po-biz venues. And I got to ask a question. Is it really worth it to ya’ll?

    “I should prefer not to,” Bartleby said to all entreaties to become party to a scene.

    Terreson

  • On May 16, 2009 at 9:38 pm thomas brady wrote:

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-poetry-seagrapes.html

    Sea Grapes, a representative short lyric of Walcott’s, suffers from discursiveness. It lacks unity of presentation and effect, the kind we see in the sonnets of Edna Millay, for instance.

    Walcott’s poem instead presents rhetoric; it gives us dry intellectualization.

    Walcott’s poem didactically knocks us over the head.

    We’re introduced to a schooner and Walcott *tells* us that the schooner in his poem “could be Odysseus.”

    There quickly follows an extravagant conceit–a comparison so clotted that only a ridiculous pedant could love it–between a “father and husband’s longing, under gnarled sour grapes” and “the adulterer hearing Nausicaa’s name in
    every gull’s outcry.” Instead of letting scene or image or speech convey the intent, we are told that a “longing, under gnarled sour grapes” is “like” the “adulterer hearing Nausicaa’s name in every gull’s outcry.” The gull makes the adulterer guilty, but who needs such simplicity when it can be dressed with “Nausicca and sour grapes,” etc etc?

    The trope of comparing hexameters to the tide in his hexameter line is frightfully clever, but it is more intellectualization; we appreciate the trick intellectually, for it is one more isolated rhetorical gesture in a hopeless rhetorical strategy of extravagant foot-noting celebrating a sermon. There is little music and no unity of effect whatsoever. Its attempt at grandiosity is patch-work.

    The final line of iambic pentameter, “The classics can console. But not enough” depends on more intellectualization.

    The lesson is stated explicitly: “The classics can console. But not enough.” Commentary on “the classics” takes the form of iambic pentamter for ironic purposes. But in vain. “Sea Grapes” is an exercise in pedantry. “Sea Grapes” is not art. It is pedantry disguised as art.

  • On May 17, 2009 at 6:57 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Testing testing one two three

  • On May 17, 2009 at 7:15 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Yeah well done.
    what i wonder is how many of the outraged here, will be doing something in reality about the issues they got het up about from their armchairs.

    Will anyone be volunteering down the shelters or does the moral pontificating only extend as far as thinking about these thinks and doing absolutely zero about them in reality.

    This is a poem of hers called

    The Appointment.

    Flamingo silk. New ruff,
    the ivory ghost
    of a halter. Chestnut curls,

    *

    commas behind the ear.
    “Taller, by half a head,
    than my Lord Walsingham.”

    *

    His Devon-cream brogue,
    malt eyes. New cloak
    mussed in her mud.

    *

    The Queen leans forward,
    a rosy envelope of civet.
    A cleavage

    *

    whispering seed pearls.
    Her own sleeve
    rubs that speck of dirt

    *

    on his cheek. Three thousand
    ornamental fruit baskets
    swing in the smoke.

    *

    “It is our pleasure
    to have our servant trained
    some longer time

    *

    in Ireland.” Stamp out
    marks of the Irish.
    Their saffron smocks.

    *

    All curroughs, bards
    and rhymers. Desmonds
    and Fitzgeralds

    *

    stuck on low spikes,
    an avenue of heads to
    the war tent.

    *

    Kerry timber
    sold to the Canaries.
    Pregnant girls

    *

    hung in their own hair
    on city walls. Plague
    crumpling gargoyles

    *

    through Munster. “They spoke
    like ghosts crying
    out of their graves.”

    ~

    i wonder if she’ll ever come across a real Desmond bard?

  • On May 17, 2009 at 11:26 am michael robbins wrote:

    Walcott is the only living Nobel Prize Winner for Literature who writes in English.

    Uh, J. M. Coetzee, Seamus Heaney, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison?

  • On May 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    oops, sorry Annie, i missed your comment.

    Thank you very much.

    sorry about the rant. your posts on meter are always a joy to read and very perspicacious. Take no notice of my bullying, i am only a dreamer in an armchair freeing the conscious order, pulling strings to flux in humanity’s fete and (yo!) name divinity Kathleen, a terrible pleaser who’ll advance and retreat as you tease out life’s music, spirit moments from love and let her alphabet rattle it’s answer an ear cocked to art will hear – island queen of memory.

    Perspicacious. a relatively new-to-me word i have been deploying to try and appear insightful, after reading the armagh po-mo trickster Maíle Dúin use it in the intro to his Oxford lectures.

    Has anyone read them, when the Princeton ollamh (ulav) held the spot?

    He juggles a million associative thoughts in his high wire act, linking a whiff of Yeatsean muscadet in the poem All Souls Night to a sky-page canvas of coincidence connected to collateral co-ordinate ties that sorta ay, hey look at the coefficient incidence of it all in the crane bag made from the skin of Aoife, daughter og pyschopomp sea-god Manannán mac Lir

    foaming horse-water deity riding his plain
    in ancient mist of mythical man, four square
    his white-wave hoof-shod sodden feet, wet
    deity in a drop of meadow dew in May

    our inner spring of time and grass-stone
    hail-blade trampling under horses’ hoof:

    Manannán mac Lír, son of the reflecting sea
    in tranquil lunar moonlight, the reversing

    word that roars clear, rowing to the Land
    of Women crying for love-sight he’ll wash
    you in a hundred sounds of music sung
    by Manannán – beneath a foaming sky-water
    horse of four hooves wave-shod in trodden
    white sea-grains counting the sand flakes
    lined in His hoof-light: Manannán mac Lír
    stirs the sea like it is your blood.

    …and put his most precious objects in the said crane bag made from Aofie who had been turned into a bird by Iuchra a jealous rival for the love of Ilbrec and when she died was wrought into a wizzard-bag.

    Hermes Mercury and Thoth, of course, all invented writing after seeing the shapes cranes make when aloft, Ogma making ogham of it in Celtic tradition which the ‘ed of poetry New Yorker knows only too well, havin robbed me ideas for pomes and emptied the mind of original blather reading me blog as an anonymous one in the filidh band.

    But his lectures whaddya reckon?

    ~

    I have Graves Oxford lectures and have read some of Arnolds, and Padel’s i predict will round on the Greeks coz she used to teach it and tthe Minoans in 2000 BC, imitated the courting ritual of cranes, as their frescos at Knossos in Crete – of twirling lovers who swirl in a mating dance – confirm, or at least corroborate in a parrallel pretend of (yo!) ha ho dee do dat doh don’t dee lah, as Saint Sean shouted in Woolton and Wavertree when he and sir Paul wuz rockin for da moany mahn.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm Jeannine Hall Gailey wrote:

    From Moby Lives, via the Bookslut Blog: this is the best summary of the situation I have seen.

    “Dennis Johnson has been covering the Derek Walcott “smear campaign” — blech — very well, and with the election of Ruth Padel to the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University he sums the controversy up for us.

    ‘Let’s recap, shall we? In England, they regard a chair in poetry as a very powerful position. They actually hold an election for that chair — candidates vie for it, people vote. Yes, an academic position is subject to a popular vote. And a man with a long and documented history of sexual harassment is seen as subject of a smear campagn if anyone brings up that history. And oh yes, if anyone does bring it up, it’s no doubt the woman running against him.’”

    Thank God someone is talking sense about this matter.

  • On May 18, 2009 at 4:40 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Funny, how a site called bookSLUT gets het up about this.

  • On May 23, 2009 at 4:04 am Diane Powell wrote:

    Good Lord,

    Am I the only poetess in the U.S. who hasn’t seen his manhood? Well, besides Mary Oliver and Ruth Stone. He wouldn’t have the guts to do that to Kay Ryan.

    Honestly, I think he is a fine poet. It seems as though his teaching skills lack something to be desired. Is there anything wrong with saying this? Would Byron have made a good teacher? Do poets have to teach?

  • On May 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm Robin Hamilton wrote:

    “And oh yes, if anyone does bring it up, it’s no doubt the woman running against him.”

    Well, as to that …

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article6350589.ece

    This whole fiasco does seem to have illuminated a difference between English and American journalism — and you can hardly say now that it’s not been reported in the UK this time.

    And that’s only today, Saturday 24th May.

    Will Oxford University investigate? If you read what they say carefuly in the Times article, and decode the characteristic English obliqueness, they don’t seem to be ruling this entirely out.

    I don’t think they will, but then a couple of days ago, I thought the whole thing would be forgotten about the minute the votes, spoiled-ballot-protests and all, were cast.

    But it seems set to run and run …

    What goes round, comes round.

  • On May 23, 2009 at 10:25 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    New information has just emerged at the Times online and other British papers, that Padel sent e mails to two journalists in April, stating:

    “The e-mails sent by Padel in April tipped off journalists to this record. She wrote: “Some [of my] supporters add that what he does for students can be found in a book called The Lecherous Professor, reporting one of his two recorded cases of sexual harassment and that Obama is rumoured to have turned him down for his inauguration poem because of the sexual record. But I don’t think that’s fair.”

    The e-mail also says: “The harassment is all documented on the web.”"

    ~

    She doesn’t think it fair, but wants to inform the hacks, because, she said:

    “I was contacted by an Oxford student, who believed Mr Walcott’s relations with female students at universities was relevant to her university’s election of a professor.

    Because her concern seemed to be a part of the whole picture, I communicated it to two journalists. I would not have done so had I known of the anonymous mailing, or of any journalist intending to highlight this issue on its own.”

    ~

    As the piece points out:

    WHAT SHE SAID PUBLICLY
    “Neither they [my campaign managers] nor I mentioned Walcott’s harassment record and had nothing to do with any behind-doors operation”

    Ruth Padel, May 12, 2009

    WHAT SHE SAID PRIVATELY
    “What he [Walcott] actually does can be found in a book called The Lecherous Professor, reporting one of his two recorded cases of sexual harassment”

    E-mail to journalists, April 2009

    And now she wants:

    “It would be so much less wounding to everyone concerned, it needs to rest . . . if you can find it in your heart.”

    ~

    In your heart, soft-focus pro-photo shot candy dancing smiles, butter wouldn’t melt eyes, pixies, elves and fae folk off the priviliged line, survivial of the fittest great great grandpa – top o’ the world ma, got there by dealing straight right through to lose what’s left before the goin’s gettin good and gone.

    Puppies and pretend, fluffy ducks and brass-necked swans, a coterie of fauns and fawning fwends, shoo horn in by hook or crook, all above board, nothing awf abait it, dearie mearie wearie woo, jackels round the dried up well, one with a top cup, one with a moan, whingy stingy bleeding wound, do we hear the faery sound – heal it, feel it, fluffy wuffy woo, oh ho ha yah yo, look who it isn’t – babels Truth to wit:

    who fall, shine, show, come
    in the nature of the vowel
    and the consonant,

    fall into letters, shining
    out of these into words,
    showing learned meaning
    and character to come out
    of those words into texts,
    proverb, commentary, compositions
    and learning the two true folds
    divisions, goings and voice-roads
    selecting vocables at the tower
    of how we speak, what we say
    and the undying literary knowledge
    of the Ogham – plastic and natural

    wood-speech that nourishes while
    it is on the mind, sings at giving
    it, sues while asking the reward
    for it, judges about its greatness
    or smallness, and sits after being
    paid the prize side-seam of chieftain
    oaks; cutting material fact from that
    harmony of words peculiar to oak-
    vowel poetry practitoners expressing
    correspondence in the Latin alphabet
    when the wise satirist, to wit,

    the one who has a wise course;
    should mean to be nature and matter
    both semi mute and doubting still
    what this was in truth – a sage’s
    finding of the course s/he followed
    in the mind, existing firm to the last
    as the last word of a sage’s knowledge
    puts it, to wit:

    the combatants should be put first
    so that they do not misplace speech
    of the undying knowledge of the Ogham:
    the nobility of the order of the Greek
    philosophies are vain,
    Reading, grammar and gloss,
    Diligent literature and metrics,
    Small their avail in heaven above.


Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 by Travis Nichols.