LONDON — This month dozens of academics at Oxford University received anonymous packages. Each contained photocopied pages from a book describing decades-old allegations of sexual harassment against Derek Walcott, the Nobel Prize-winning poet.
It is still unclear who sent the material, but on Tuesday it had what was probably its intended effect. Mr. Walcott, a candidate to become the next Oxford professor of poetry in an election on Saturday, withdrew from the race.
Mr. Walcott’s withdrawal leaves two other poets — Ruth Padel, a Briton, and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, an Indian — still in the race for the professorship. Ms. Padel, 63, is the better known of the two and seems almost certain to win.
Ms. Padel, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin who is interested in the relationship between poetry and science, said on Tuesday that she was “shattered” that Mr. Walcott had withdrawn from the election and that she had not known about the anonymous letters until a reporter informed her late last week. She said she regularly used his poems and criticism in her classes and had been looking forward to using the race as a vehicle for a debate about the meaning of poetry at Oxford.
“I just feel scooped out inside,” she said in an interview. “He’s my colleague, and he’s a poet, and I don’t want poets to be humiliated. Of course we should take harassment seriously, but there are other issues here, too, and it seems horrible, this anonymous campaign.”
CAMBRIDGE, England — A historic month for women in British poetry turned sour on Monday when the first woman in 301 years elected to Oxford University’s prestigious chair in poetry [Ruth Padel] resigned and admitted what she had previously denied — that she had played a part in a covert effort to taint her main rival for the post with old allegations of sexual impropriety.