Charles Darwin's great-great-granddaughter Ruth Padel 'humbled' to win most important academic poetry position in UK
David Batty writing om the guardian.co.uk, Sunday 17 May 2009
Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, is the first woman to take the role since it was created in 1708.
A group of students and graduates, headed by the secretary of the Oxford University Poetry Society, called for the contest to be suspended after the row. Walcott, who had been the frontrunner, criticised the "low tactics" and "degrading attempt at character assassination" the election had become.
His withdrawal left Oxford graduates and staff with the choice of Padel or the Indian poet and critic Arvind Mehrotra. Padel, an Oxford alumna, scored 297 votes to Mehrotra's 129.
Padel said she felt "honoured" and "humbled" to accept the professorship, which has been held by Matthew Arnold, Seamus Heaney and WH Auden.
"I should like to thank the university, and the people who voted for me," she said. "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."
Padel, who was described as being "visibly upset" by Walcott's departure, vowed yesterday to promote poetry across the university.
She said: "Last night, in St Peter's College, I read to undergraduates from physics, zoology, Russian and anthropology, who were excited and passionate about poetry, especially poetry and science.
"That is what I should like to do: to explore what poems can give to students, college by college, department by department, in the humanities and sciences. To encourage, across the university, the reading, the writing and above all the enjoying of poetry, ancient and modern, in all its richness and variety."
Padel has given seminars for the Euroscience Forum Barcelona, the Royal Society and Royal Society of Medicine. In her new role, she will work to unite poetry and science.
Dr Sally Mapstone, chairman of the English faculty board at Oxford University, said: "It is tremendous that May 2009 has seen the election of the first woman professor of poetry at Oxford and the first woman poet laureate. Ruth Padel will be a dynamic and distinguished professor, and we are very pleased to welcome her."
Padel succeeds the scholar Christopher Ricks, who steps down from his five-year term of office at the end of September.