By DAVID ORR writing in The New York Times.
When Ruth Padel (pic right by Eamonn McCabe) resigned last week as Oxford’s professor of poetry after only nine days on the job, it put an end — for now, at least — to a tale that began with past charges of sexual harassment against Ms. Padel’s primary competition for the position, the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, and grew to include discreet tip-offs, fervid editorials, and Ms. Padel’s eventual admission that she had helped publicize the allegations against her rival.
CONFESSION The poet Ruth Padel helped to undermine Mr. Walcott.
Ugly stuff, in other words, and mightily entertaining. But behind much of the frothy speculation and accusation was an older, subtler and more intractable conflict between the myths of poetry and the realities of the modern university. What we may be willing to put up with from a poet — in Mr. Walcott’s case, and perhaps Ms. Padel’s as well — is different from what we’re willing to put up with from a professor, which can be quite a problem when the poet is expected to profess.
The tension between these expectations, and the close relationship between poetry and academia that gives rise to that tension, are relatively recent phenomena in both the United States and Britain. As a biographer of Robert Frost, Jay Parini, notes, “In a time when most colleges have a poet on campus, if not several, it seems difficult to imagine how odd it was for Amherst College to have hired Robert Frost in the winter of 1917.”