Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 12:33 UK

Poet withdraws from Oxford race

Derek Walcott
Walcott won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott has withdrawn from the race to become Oxford Professor of Poetry following an anonymous letter campaign against him.

The 79-year-old pulled out after Oxford academics received letters reportedly detailing an allegation of sexual harassment made against the poet.

Walcott told a London newspaper he was disappointed at the "low and degrading attempt at character assassination".

Two poets, Arvind Mehrotra and Ruth Padel remain in the race for the post.

"I withdraw from the election to be Professor of Poetry at Oxford," Walcott told the Evening Standard newspaper.

"I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used in this election and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me for the role, or to myself.

"I already have a great many work commitments and, while I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it."

'Clean campaign'

The anonymous letters reportedly contained photocopied pages from a book which detailed a harassment claim made against Walcott by a Harvard student in 1982.

The poet was one of three candidates in the running for the position, alongside Ruth Padel and the Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

Padel dismissed any suggestion that she or her supporters were behind the letters, telling the newspaper her team had "bent over backwards to run a clean campaign".

An Oxford University spokesman said: "We are disappointed that one of the candidates for this year's Professor of Poetry elections has pulled out of the contest at such a late stage.

"We hope voters will still attend on election day to vote for the remaining two candidates."

The election for the role - which is regarded as one of the most influential in poetry in the UK behind that of the laureateship - will be held on 16 May.

Previous people to hold the position include Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Seamus Heaney.

He or she will replace the scholar Christopher Ricks, who is stepping down from his five-year term of office at the end of September.

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