Ruth Padel has claimed that she will be able to lead the position of Professor of Poetry for Oxford in a “new direction,” in an interview with Cherwell.
She suggested that, as the post has never to date been filled by a female poet, she might be able to bring something new to the position. “The post has been held so far by 43 men and no women,” she said. “My supporters think I might take the post in a new direction, make new links for it and for the university.”
However, she was quick to praise both of her male rivals for the post. Of Arvind Mehotra, she stated, “He is a good essayist and friends of mine admire his work.” Of Walcott’s work, she said, “I admire and have written about Walcott’s work, especially the early stuff. Oddly enough, when my daughter heard he was running too, she said my poetry reminds me of his!”
Nevertheless, she also took pains to explain where she felt she could offer more than other candidates. “My supporters are keen on my scholarly, scientific and classical background, my links with science and conservation, and the fact that I have promoted the close reading of poetry in a wider context than universities.”
Padel said she would reach out to other academic disciplines with poetry readings in botanic gardens and museums, and that she was enthusiastic about involving more students, especially graduates, in poetry.
“I’d love giving the lectures, but I also love making informal links for students. Especially, perhaps, those in other faculties who might feel they have no formal entrée to poetry.”
“I am particularly thinking of graduates. I was a graduate at Oxford-being a graduate can be a lonely business, the university is set up for undergraduates, graduates have to sink themselves into their own lone subject. Poetry can offer a mode and moment of reflection for new ideas and thought.”
Padel praised the uniqueness of the post and of the University, saying “One of Oxford’s great strengths is its resistance to quick change.” She added, “The beauty of this post is that it’s up to the individual. That does run the risk of someone who does not such a good job. But it also means anyone can do anything.”