Poets are only human – even Ruth Padel

Now if I were to write the word sex here, woops, I have just done it, sorry, you would all read on, probably.

On the other hand if I wrote words like Professor, Oxford University, election and, worst of all, I can hardly bring myself to put the word down it is such a turn off, well, here goes, POETRY, then I know you will all go away.

See, now I am all alone.

This is a pity because poetry has provided one of the most shocking stories to hit the news recently.

I know it is worrying and relatively difficult to understand why North Korea is making nuclear bombs. It is not really surprizing though. It is equally strange to me that they get told off for it when us civilized countries are allowed to have as many as we want. I suppose you can’t uninvent things no matter how nasty they are.

It is also pretty shocking when we read all this stuff about British Members of Parliament making all those fiddles on their allowances. Even today (Sir) Nicholas and (I assume, Lady) Ann Winterton, a husband and wife team of Conservative MPs, have said that they are standing down at the next General Election because they have been found out claiming rent for a house that they actually own. Then again politicians are politicians and I don’t think many of us are that surprized by their grabbing tendencies.

Will all these Knighted people keep their knighthoods I wonder or will it be the new badge of shame? Remember (Sir) Fred Goodwin, the failed former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland and his obscene early retirement package.

Let’s knight criminals and fraudsters then we will all be able to see them coming.

No but the story that shocked me today was the resignation of the recently elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

Ruth Padel, a well-known poet, was elected to this post last week after the “front-runner” the Nobel Prize winner, Derek Walcott withdrew his candidacy after rumours were spread that he had allegedly committed acts of sexual harassment sometime in the past.

These stories have been unsubstantiated by his critics and denied by the poet himself but the stories were more than enough to insure that he withdrew and the number two in this race, Ruth Padel, won the Professorship.

After denying any involvement in this scandal, yesterday she stood down after admitting that she had e-mailed journalists about these allegations.

She issued a statement which smelt rather like those apologies that we have been hearing from our politicians of late:

“I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott’s withdrawal from the election.”

Sure. I am sorry but I am not sorry. We are so used to these words in public life.

I have developed a relatively new passion for writing poetry – sorry about that – so I was particularly amazed that this apparently nice and obviously poetic woman could have done anything so nasty and underhand.

I, naively I know, used to think of poets as being ultra-refined, ultra-sensitive, and, well yes, profoundly ethical.

Well they are not, and never were, I am sure. Lord Byron screwed around, T.S. Eliot was horrible to his wife and Ezra Pound was a fascist.

I don’t’ know why though, I just think this sort of petty back-biting seemed beneath these and some of my other adolescent heroes.

Poets are, of course, just human beings who can see things and then write them down in a particularly gripping and memorable way.

It took me a long time to see them like this though.

I remember visiting Wordsworth’s grave once and being amazed by the visual evidence of his death. Of course I knew that he had died well over a hundred years earlier but he hadn’t died for me. His poetry had stayed alive in a way that was beyond mortality and, consequently, he too, to my twisted brain, was still living.

Marvelous as I am sure Ruth Padel’s poetry is, I just don’t think I would ever feel like that about her now.

I hope she will write some poems about this event then maybe I will understand it.

A friend of mine told me last week that he hated poetry.

I know that he is one of those grumpy people who takes pleasure in disliking things but I was still surprized that he had taken the trouble to express any feelings about poetry one way or the other.

He told me it was pretentious rubbish and a waste of time and, as this conversation was obviously never going to reach any intellectual heights, I just told him to f*ck off.

Ruth Padel has reinforced his opinions I fear.

Since my brain haemorrhage, some six months ago, I have written, maybe twenty odd poems, rubbish probably, well certainly, I suspect, as far as my friend is concerned, but it has turned into a passion.

This may be a result of brain damage but if it is, it is a benign side effect and, oddly, Ruth Padel’s all too human misjudgment, has spurred me on. It was much more difficult to tell myself that I was an unsung Wordsworth or Keats but, if poets really are as foolish as M/s Padel, then, just maybe, I could be one too.

I suppose, if I am going to talk about my own feeble poetic efforts, I should put my neck on the block and reproduce the three I have written recently. There is no problem there, you have already gone anyway.

As a child at school, I was often forced to my knees in prayer. God seldom entered my thoughts but I welcomed the opportunity to escape from the reality around me and I was always impressed by the drama implied in that position of kneeling.


On his knees.

On his knees.

On his knees.

Kneeling there,
Bored but impressed.
Knees cushioned
Hands cupped on his eyes.

A penitent, clasping a cross,
Sir Lancelot, shining with ardour,
King Louis dragged to his end.

Head bowed.
Eyes closed.

The second one is about a Zombie, one of the living dead, risen from his grave as in the movies but, just maybe, leaving something much worse behind him. Maybe he had had a brain haemorrhage too.


Waking up was always a shock.
Interrupting that other world.
Sometimes it really was: Where am I?
And, worst of all: Who am I?

That World held you in its arms,
Cuddling or smothering, it depended.
It was always there, complete in itself,
But incompatible with here.

Where am I? Where indeed.
Somewhere new, unforeseen.
Who am I? Oh now, you’re talking.
Someone else, awoken.

Before this, that.
Confusion playing normal,
A twisted logic, just for you,
A familiarity game, a hoax.

Then this, after that.
An improvement? Sure.
A shock? Well no.
This time, it feels like real.

The last one is about love, sorry.


Crashing through,
Lost and abandoned,
In World-shifting darkness,
Hurtling even.

The scented air comes first,
Animal cries draw him in, half fear, half mystery.
Birds, sing for him, calling him,
Then rapturous pink, the cherry orchard, home.

Apollo in disguise
Lustful in his joy.
His glory hidden, dangerous,
Leading him from deep inside.

Innocence awaits.
No, not innocent. Who needs that?
Human nature,
Unembarrassed, yes, lustful too.

They meet there,
Instantly enjoined,
Cherry blossom veiled,
Reunited, inevitable, consumed by fire.

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