Friday, May 29, 2009

Current Favourite Sentence

'There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper.'

Monday, May 25, 2009


Yesterday afternoon I went with some friends to see Lightning Bolt Vallecas play Elche. I think the technical term is 'we was robbed', but the sun shone and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Derek Walcott: A Cockup

I'm in Spain at the moment, and so I'm out of the exciting gossip loop which has circled round the recent election for the Professor of Poetry at Oxford. What I want to do here is put down what I have been told by newspapers and friends and try to work out what I think, and I would be very glad for people to tell me I'm wrong or misinformed. There are a lot of links, sorry.

1. Oxford started looking for a Professor of Poetry to follow Christopher Ricks. Ruth Padel stood for the post. Then, Derek Walcott announced his candidacy. A few days before the deadline for nominations, Arvind Mehrotra joined the race. The assumption was that Derek Walcott would be the most likely winner.

2. A few days before the election, newspapers [you will notice that I'm linking mainly to documents from The Guardian here, but the story was reported elsewhere as well] reported an anonymous campaign against Walcott. The word 'smear' was used by newspapers: this was disputed by commentators, because a 'smear' is, they said, an unsubstantiated rumour, and there was coherent evidence that the allegations against Walcott had firm foundations. The substance of the allegations was that Walcott had a long history of sexual harassment against his female students, including in one instance failing a student at Harvard in 1984 because she had refused to sleep with him. He also settled out of court with a student from Boston who accused him of harassment twelve years later. He has always refused to comment on these events.

3. Walcott withdrew from the race. Ruth Padel won the election, despite calls from various people for it to be postponed. She won at a canter, incidentally: 297 votes to Mehrotra's 129. The electorate (spoiled ballots to one side) was therefore 426. Last time, the votes fell as follows: Christopher Ricks: 214; Peter Porter: 175; Anne Carson: 105; Mark Walker: 20; Ian McMillan: 17. An electorate of 531.

4. It is now coming out that Padel may have been an instigator of the allegations against Walcott. There are calls for her to stand down.

Some thoughts and personal opinions:

a. The election for Professor of Poetry is, like most things in Oxford, extremely factional. I was in Oxford for the last election, and it was clear that there was a Christopher Ricks lobby and a Peter Porter lobby, which was the English Faculty fighting amongst themselves, and an Anne Carson lobby, which was largely supported by the Classics Faculty. This time, the English Faculty largely split between Walcott and Mehrotra, and the Classics Faculty went for Padel: she came to give a reading from Darwin: a life in poems which the organising classicist announced as being 'the greatest combination of science and poetry since Lucretius' (this is reported speech from a clear-headed friend of mine who was there).

b. Most people seem to be guilty. Walcott behaved extremely badly in the past. Harvard and Boston behaved extremely incompetently: if Walcott had such a history (there's a personal take in several posts here, which suggests that Walcott's behaviour was both overt and extensive), then why wasn't he fired in the 1980s? Padel behaved extremely sneakily in the present.

c. Mehrotra comes out alright.

d. It would have been an extremely dangerous precedent for the election to have been abandoned or postponed. Walcott's withdrawal is in the final analysis his personal choice. If Padel and Mehrotra had wanted to show their disapproval for the campaign against Walcott, then they should both have withdrawn their candidacies as well, and forced nominations to be reopened.

e. The rubric for the Professor of Poetry runs as follows: "The duties of the Professor include giving a public lecture each term and the Creweian Oration at the University's honorary degree ceremony every other year, setting the theme for, and judging, the Newdigate Prize and the Chancellor's English Essay Prize, judging the prize for an English poem on a sacred subject, and generally encouraging the art of poetry in the University." There is no requirement for the Professor of Poetry to have any personal contact with his students at all, and the competitions are judged anonymously: the question of bad behaviour, sex-for-favours, should not arise. Derek Walcott is 79.

f. Walcott is a much greater poet than Padel or Mehrotra, and a better critic than Padel. The post of Professor of Poetry now looks shaky for the next five years at least.

g. The whole situation is a cockup.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Reading

Again at Oeste Celeste, again with a pair of our friends: Alexandra Atiya and Lawrence Schimel. Both were very good.
In fact, the whole reading (l-r) was our friend Sonia, our friend Alexandra, or friend Alfonso, our friend Lawrence, our friend Sergio. Cosas de amigos.



We are thinking, slowly, about moving to a slightly cheaper flat. We went to see one which was a lot cheaper, but also a deal nastier: the one redeeming feature was the view from the cramped attic bedroom which you got to by a rickety jerry-built staircase.

You can see all the way out of the city.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We reckon they'd give you a good quote.

We Don't Think We Want To Go Here

A local nightclub. The sign on the right means 'insured against fire'.