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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Obama and Walcott

Barack Obama has recently hosted a "Poetry Jam" at the White House, inviting performance poets and Jazz musicians, among others. I didn't recognise any of the guests, and do hope the great Patricia Smith and Bob Holman get invited soon. It appears that the "coolest man on the planet" - and easily the most cultured US President since Kennedy - likes poetry (we knew he wrote it); indeed, he was seen lately with a collection of Derek Walcott's "in his back pocket". The meteoric rise of Walcott's reputation in American political circles has been matched by an equally catastrophic fall in Britain.

Sadly, he had to withdraw from the running for the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford, after a dodgy dossier was sent around to academics (and voters) alleging harassment claims. It's an awfully shabby way to treat a poetic genius, and Nobel prize winner. I think it might be wise to postpone the elections for a year, to let the dust settle. However, Ruth Padel would be a superb choice; her new Darwin collection is a masterwork.

Still, one wonders at the way in which such bland moralising has been used to humiliate a major poet of our time - after all, none of the claims made against the man were proven, were they? I am utterly disgusted by the idea of harassment, and oppose it, but believe in fair play, too, and would have liked to see Walcott selected, or not, based on his poetic, not priapic, adventures. I wonder if Obama will removed his copy of Walcott from his trousers, once he gets wind of this downfall? Maybe not, he's able to stand up to Netanyahu, he could probably handle Oxford, too.
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