The Derek Walcott Scandal 59

I remember sitting under Caribbean skies at the Preparatory Committee for the UN Law of the Sea Convention. As we discussed thorny compromises over the regime to govern extraction of minerals from the bed of the deep sea, my friend Dolliver Nelson would break into flights of poetry. As many Jamaican weeks were passed, Dolliver introduced me to the extraordinary passion for the English language of Caribbean intellectuals of his generation. It was through Dolliver that I started avid reading of CLR James and Derek Walcott.

Walcott is a great poet. It is appalling that the politically correct brigade have drummed him out of the election for Oxford Professor of Poetry.

We live in a society in which any expression of male heterosexuality seems to be anathematised. It appears sex is supposed to happen nowadays without the male ever suggesting it, either verbally or by caress.

Nothing has ever been proven against Walcott. The accusations, even if true, do not amount to anything near rape or forced physical abuse. It is alleged that he came on rather strongly, decades ago, and was rebuffed. It is alleged he was petulant after being rebuffed.

It would be difficult to find, for example, great visual artists who did not sleep with their models. Should we empty the National Gallery? Pretty well all the Pre-Raphaelites and Impressionists would have to go, for a start.

Burne Jones and Rosetti. Picasso, Degas, Gauguin? All appalling sexual harassers! Burn their paintings!

Ruth Padel comes out of this very badly. If she had any honour, she should resign. It is plain by her website she is a desperate self-promoter. Her latest poem centres on a fantasy of dominating the male:

He brandishes

his pair of ring-ridged horns, arcing back

like sabres. But mine are one metre fifty.

I force him down, rough him up

and suddenly as he came he is gone

If Padel’s talent only matched her ambition, she truly would be great. She is already Chair of the Poetry Society, and very much at the centre of the London clique of man-haters who were spreading the word against Walcott. Her protests now against the hate campaign are late and unconvincing.

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59 thoughts on “The Derek Walcott Scandal

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  • JimmyGiro

    Ever since the introduction of ‘women’s studies’, we have had a tenfold increase in rape allegations; which has led to the reduction of the ratio of convictions per claim. The feminists want more convictions.

    Ever since the introduction of ‘children’s rights’ in school, we have got a tenfold (or there about) increase in claims of teacher abuse; which has led to the reduction of the ratio of convictions per claim. The feminist teachers want less convictions.

    Maybe the two lady poets can write some poems about equality!?

  • MerkinOnParis

    There was a young lady from Crewe

    Who said, as the Bishop withdrew

    The vicar is quicker and slicker and thicker

    And a much better poet than you.

  • TB

    Even if you think “they are only women, no man’s career should be affected by such actions”, you could still think that abuse of power stinks.

  • Abe Rene

    I don’t pretend to have any poetic erudition, but so far as I know, there’s no evidence that Ruth Padel had anything to do with the dossier circulated about Walcott with allegations of past sexual harassment. If the allegations are true, then as far as I am concerned justice has been served by Providence. Judging by her website, Padel appears to be genuinely a very talented person, having studied and held a number of teaching posts at very prestigious universities, succeeded as a freelance writer and commissioned by the BBC. I see no reason why she should not accept her election. Good luck to her.

  • JimmyGiro

    Abe Rene,

    She won with 0.2% of the vote!!!

    That’s like congratulating somebody for finding a piece of pizza in a wheelie bin.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Oh well, that’s me out, then. I once wrote an erotic novel, ‘The Snake’ under the pseudonym, Melanie Desmoulins (not that I am ruthless self-promoter!). The book might stimulate people to desire other people, horror-of-horrors, will that count as an incitment to sexual harassment, I wonder?

    To be clear, though, I am in no way minimising or condoning actual sexual harassement in academia, which has been a well-known problem over the years. It doesn’t make the alleged perpetrator any less an artist, of course, but if it’s been a proven case (which as far as I can tell does not seem to have been the case here), it might make one wary of appointing them to a senior academic post because of the power which that brings with it.

    Interesting – though possibly irrelevant – that this has sprung up around the appointment of a black man.

    Who will cast the first stone, I wonder?

  • Sam

    Why do you think Padel should resign? Is there any evidence that she was involved in the plot to discredit Walcott, who, I agree, is a wonderful poet and has been badly treated?

    As for Padel’s poem, as I read it, what she is describing in the lines you quote is the rivalry of two males, so it’s a male fantasy of male domination, and hardly evidence of the man-hating womanhood you ascribe to her.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    There was a poet from Saint Lucia,

    Caribbean and raunchy facing opponent comparatively green,

    His poetry intellectually clean,

    Sadly, his main rival, exceedingly mean!

    Shit! ?” am I that bad at poetry? ?” think I will stick to blogging ?” bad there too ?” but not as…

    PS. I recall an actual instance at my London College of this sort of thing. A senior maler lecturer ( was that lecherer?) was having it off with an undergrad. The Head of Department did not like this very popular lefty in the least, so he posted a directive that it was prohibited for members of teaching staff to have intimate relations with any student. Then, it turned out that another senior male lecturer ( was that lecherer number two?) was having it off with another undergrad. We students, understanding the “politics” of the situation deftly raised the instance of the second lecturer, in a student/staff meeting, and strongly indicated that this second lecturer was surely transgressing from the directive that had been given. Dr. ( Blank) now placed under direct fire replied to the students at the meeting that Dr. ( so and so’s ) private life was his own affair.

    Footnote: The reason for the volte face was that the second senior lecturer was co-author and research assistant to Dr. ( so and so) ?” and the good Head of Department therefore took the easier way out. Got the hell out of his co-author’s life, got on with more publishing with his co-author’s assistance, and left the good man to get on with his lecherous life! There’s academic politics for you ?” or so much of it as I recall from my college days. And they all went to bed happily ever after!

  • eddie

    Agree with you on this one Craig. I was appalled at this story and glad that Walcott had the dignity to withdraw. These feminist harridans are awful. If Padel wasn’t behind the smear who was?

    There was a young fellow called Shit

    A name he disliked quite a bit

    So he changed it to Shite

    A step in the right

    Direction one has to admit

    RObert Service I believe.

  • Vronsky

    Poet Laureates are notorious for being the worst of their time. Which in history has been the worst of the dismal lot is an interesting question. Southey, maybe? I don’t know Padel’s work, so can’t comment. I do know Bud Neil’s, though – isn’t this marvellous?

    A snowdrop drips

    a crocus croaks

    and in my little window box

    a yellow daffy hings its heid:

    it does indeed.

    oh, daffy…

    could you not but heid your hing?

    Nae bother would it be to rhyme

    your heiding hing

    with Spring.

  • Craig


    I think Sam let us know she was female some time ago (unless it’s a different Sam). But I don’t quite see what that’s got to do with it!

  • JimmyGiro

    If I had the wings of a sparrow,

    and if I had the arse of a cow,

    I’d fly over Oxford tomorrow,


    Amazingly the expression ‘prestigious’ is used for this post; the winner receiving less than 300 of the 150,000 votes available.

    Has Oxford university thrown away its standards of english along with its understanding of merit?

  • JimmyGiro

    Is this some sort of cryptic question… what has gender to do with feminism, or feminist nepotism?

    I’ll have to think about that one !!!

    …. Ooooh, I know…. they create a market for it!

  • Sam

    Different Sam. Definitely a different Sam. This one has a beard. Do I have to be female not to assume that Ruth Padel is guilty?

  • Suhayl Saadi

    The incident reminds me of an Alexander McCall-Smith Botswanan detective episode screend just a few weeks ago in the UK, in which a long-time lecherous lecturer is outed in almost identical fashion – one wonders whether the perpetrators of the epistles had watched the episode and got the idea thereof for the specific tactic employed. Life imitating art, perhaps. If this speculation wrt triggers is true, it would be so deeply, deeply ironic.

  • JimmyGiro

    No Sam, you don’t. There are male feminists; as there were Jewish special SS commandos. If someone supports in anyway a cult or a political group, then they can be called in line with that.

    If you support feminism or feminists, then you have made gender the issue, and you are a sexist; just as a Jew co-opted by the SS, can be accused of Nazism.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Oooo, that’s a bit inaccurate, Mr Giro. Also wildly off-beam using the Nazi analogy here. One can disagree with the tenets of, say, radical feminism (anyway, who said one had to be a ‘feminist’- why is this a dirty word today, like ‘socialist’? – in order to believe that no-one should suffer the pressure of a lecturer ruining your career and life ’cause you wouldn’t sleep with him!) or with the dynamics around the Walcott-Padel-et-al issue whatever without having to resort to such sloppy thinking.

    I experienced a racist consultant gynaecologist at a hospital in Glasgow openly insulting me in front of patients, nurses, other students in an overtly racist manner on a daily basis when I was a Final Year medical student in the 1980s. Every day, day-in, day-out. I knew that his boss was of similar ilk, though not so openly. I felt like rendering a Glasgow Kiss to him, but was well aware that he could’ve ruined my entire life if he’d wanted and that he had me totally in his power. He wouldn’t have got away with it now. And that’s because people said: Enough! This is not right!

    I don’t know what the truth of the Walcott allegations is. He’s a great poet and while in no way demeaning Ruth Padel’s talent, I’d have loved him to have got the Chair.

    But let’s not use this to vent at anything progressive, just because we personally might not have been affecetd by it. You only know what it feels like when it happens to you.

  • Craig

    Mmmm, lost me Suhayl. The only one who has been victimised that I can see is Walcott (who is, of course, black). Not sure I am on the non-progressive side by opposing persecution of heterosexuals.

  • JimmyGiro

    Suhayl Saadi,

    It is only sloppy thinking when it is not consistent; I regard feminism as an evil form of fascism; and I regard socialism as another form of fascism.

    And as for: “You only know what it feels like when it happens to you.” Does that mean a Doctor has to suffer all the diseases before they can fully comprehend the malady? Clearly not, as we would have no graduate doctors.

    The problem is people not seeing the consequences of these political cults, exacerbated by the moral paralysis brought on by relativism.

  • Sam


    So I am a feminist because I don’t automatically assume Ruth Padel is guilty?

    I agree with Craig: Walcott has been disgustingly treated. But that does not mean that Padel is the culprit.

    And I stick to my assertion that Craig has misread or misrepresented the poem he quotes.

  • JimmyGiro

    If she is a feminist, she is automatically guilty of feminism.

    Your failure to see the feminist intend in her poem was what caused me to ask you to read for comprehension.

    To help you appreciate her feminism, try reading her essay on her website “Women don’t have groupies”, or some such title.

  • kathz

    I agree with Sam – there’s no evidence that Ruth Padel circulated the dossier. Why assume her guilt in this case an Walcott’s innocence in the previous case?

    The stories about Walcott are old and well-known. I don’t know the truth of them. Clumsy attempts to seduce happen by both genders; sometimes the response will be enthusiastic, sometimes appalled. Both parties then have a responsibility to retrieve the situation – and it won’t always be easy. However the problem moves beyond social awkwardness if there’s an acute imbalance of power involved. Years ago I was shocked by academics who brought first-year students to parties as trophies – not because they had seduced them but because they plainly didn’t see the students as human beings who deserved, at least, courtesy and kindness. I should add that I’ve also known instances of entirely happy relationships between academics and students – brief and long-term.

    However the serious and unproven charge against Walcott is not that he tried to seduce a student but that he threatened to fail her (which could have ruined her career) for not succumbing to his advances. I hope it’s untrue because that would be an atrocious abuse of power and one that I hope Craig, as Rector of a university, would not dream of condoning.

    I agree with Craig that Walcott, whatever the truth of the allegations, is the greater poet. Omeros is the one of the most magnificent long poems of the twentieth century and it moves me to tears.

    However, Craig’s jibes against Ruth Padel’s poetry are cheap. She’s a good poet who has written books about contemporary poetry which are genuinely illuminating for today’s students. I expect her lectures will also be successful. Her website is no more self-promoting than Craig’s – writers have websites in part to sell books and there’s nothing surprising about that.

    I am eligible to vote for the professor of poetry. Sometimes I’ve had strong views on the matter. However the date of the election isn’t announced to the electorate and votes have to be cast in person. Sadly I’ve never been able to make the journey to cast my vote.

    For the record, I have no personal knowledge of Derek Walcott or Ruth Padel – nor of Arvind Mehrotra. But I’m glad the post has gone to a practising poet rather than a literary critic.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Mr Giro, I’m not defender of any of the manifestations of thought-police to which you refer and in fact I enjoy poking fun at them! Though I can’t agree – now please don’t go off at the deep end – that socialism and feminism are forms of fascism. Yes, I know about Uncle Joe and Uncle Pol. One could discuss this all century, though, there are pro and con arguments and of course then there are libertarians of all hues who also differ on these subjects.

    What I meant was that one’s own experience of being consistently and directly abused by power in this very personal way can help one understand in a visceral way how devastating it can be. This would not really apply to some kind of professional expertise – that analogy is semiotically imprecise – and also it doesn’t mean that someone who has not experienced such abuse could not comprehend its effects. The potential profundity of those effects is exactly what I’m trying to communicate, in fact, because I think it is communicable.

    I don’t believe in witch-hunts or in puritanical persecutions of human nature and joy – as I stated earlier, I penned an erotic-pornographic novel, for crying out loud – I just think people ought to treat one another with the human respect they would expect to receive from another if the positions were reversed.

    Craig, I wasn’t saying you weren’t progressive. I think the discourse which you have initiated is a valid one. The central question, it seems to me, is not really about sexuality, which I think is a central and wondrous thing, but as so often in the nexus of human/ professional relationships, has to do with the nature of power, of which I am wary.

  • JimmyGiro

    kathz wrote:

    “I agree with Sam – there’s no evidence that Ruth Padel circulated the dossier. Why assume her guilt in this case an Walcott’s innocence in the previous case?”

    Walcott’s innocence is a tenet of US and English law; innocent until proved otherwise.

    Ruth Padel’s guilt is to accept an unfair victory; born of feminist spite, of which she is akin to, as witnessed by her poetry and essays. Her finger prints do not have to be on the envelope to be a party to the result; after all, she was the main beneficiary.

    You could say: as the winner from a dirty tricks campaign, she created a market for feminism.

  • Gerard Mulholland

    JimmyGiro – are you the Jimmy in Jimmy Riddle?

    Your monumental ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘fascist’ makes everything else you say in this debate meaningless.

    I find your anti-women attitudes worse than offensive – I find them utterly ridiculous.

    It is not women whom you demean by these ignorant diatribes but yourself.

  • JimmyGiro

    It is not women I demean at all, it is feminists.

    Your inability to make demarcation between women and feminists is the actual insult to women; just as it is an insult to Germans to fail to distinguish them from Nazis; or Jews from Zionists.

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