Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Totleigh 1: a shout for Mehrotra.
Arrived from London yesterday, meeting fellow tutor, Helen, at Paddington, then down on the usual crowded train, but finding seats. The train stuffy smelling faintly - as H said - of chips. Picked up at Exeter by taxi and brought down into the valley, over the cattle grids - one of them shiningly new. Many students already here, and there are cars in plenty - mostly younger than average.
The big news is the resignation of Ruth Padel as Oxford Professor of Poetry, on which no special comment from me, except that it is a comedy-tragedy for all involved, and that the forgotten third nominee, Arvind Mehrotra, whom I met in Delhi, is a marvellous poet and one of nature's deeply good people, so I hope he is offered it and accepts it. The fact that few have heard of him here reflects deeply on us, and not in the least - let us contemplate this fact for a minute in silence - on him. And why not an Indian poet in the job? He'd be very good - a revelation, I think - and what he would have to say would be new and to the benefit of all. Bring on Arvind Mehrotra!
As regards Walcott I don't know the full facts - if there are full facts to know - but his generation, which in this country was the generation of heavy boozers, les grands buveurs, as Peter Redgrove had it, was in the USA - and indeed sometimes here - the generation of campus affairs. The guillotine fell heavily on that malarky in the eighties. My generation preferred to teach in rooms with glass doors or windows or open doors. I still do. Sensible paranoia.
Back then, in the 60s and 70s, it was, as the TV show I have never watched has it, Life on Mars, so there would have been nothing peculiarly heinous in such advances when Walcott was a younger man. Autre temps, autre moeurs (French day today). I don't suppose Byron or Shelley or Donne would be offered the Professorship now. And as for Rimbaud or Verlaine, perish the thought. Not even Betjeman, with his love of strong young tennis girls.
Lewis Carroll...? Don't ask.
These are the menfolk, of course, but I am sure a few of the lyrical womenfolk might disqualify themselves.