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Monday, May 18, 2009

Leading Indian poet loses Oxford election

LONDON: A leading Indian poet has failed in his bid to become the first Asian Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, regarded as the most prestigious position in poetry after laureateship.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Professor of English at Allahabad University, lost in a controversial election on Saturday to his sole rival Ruth Padel, great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

She becomes the first woman ever to hold the post in 300 years, joining a long line of distinguished poets, including Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden and Seamus Heaney.

She succeeds Christopher Ricks, who is stepping down at the end of his five-year tenure.

Professor Mehrotra, whose name was put forward by Amit Chaudhuri and Peter D. McDonald, an Oxford English lecturer, polled only 129 votes against Ms. Padel’s 297.

He said he was not surprised by the outcome and was, indeed, happy that so many people actually voted for him.

He said he was happy to have been part of the process.

“I must say that all my 11 books put together did not attract the attention this one election did!”

Ms. Padel’s election was a foregone conclusion after Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott pulled out of the race, protesting an anonymous smear campaign over allegations of sexual harassment made against him when he taught at Harvard and Boston universities in the 1980s and 1990s.

Widespread outrage

The campaign provoked a widespread outrage, and some 50 voters spoilt their ballots in protest, instead of voting for either of the two remaining contenders.

“It’s shameful. I wanted to vote for Walcott, and I feel I have been cheated,” a senior academic said.

Ms. Padel regretted that her victory had been “poisoned” by the controversy.

“Honoured”

“I feel honoured and humbled to be given this responsibility, and shall try to carry it out as well as I can.”

“My backers based their support for me on what they felt I could offer poetry and students. Now I shall do my best to fulfil their trust,” said the 62-year-old poet, who has been praised for establishing links between poetry and science.

She becomes the second woman in recent weeks to be elected to an important position. Carol Ann Duffy was appointed the first female Poet Laureate earlier this month.

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