Lucy Newlyn, a professor of English Language and Literature at the Oxford University and the sponsor of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, for the prestigious Oxford Professor of Poetry post, has described the appointment of British poet, Simon Armitage, Mr. Soyinka as “an immense loss for Oxford University”.
Ms. Newlyn, who wrote on a Facebook page created to drum support for Mr. Soyinka’s candidacy for the 300-year-old elected post, chastised British press for sabotaging Mr. Soyinka’s candidacy saying she was “ashamed of the powerful role which the British Press has played in this election”.
She, however, left glowing words for Mr. Soyinka, describing the first African Nobel prize winner as a “brave and undaunted warrior for human rights”.
“You are a great poet, a brave and undaunted warrior for human rights, a man with a very large heart, and someone whose witty good humour lifts the spirits of all who know and are inspired by you,” she wrote.
Mr. Soyinka, who had established an early lead in the contest, eventually lost the post to Mr. Armitage, a former probation officer from Yorkshire, by 301 votes. Mr Armitage polled 1221 votes, while Mr. Soyinka got 920 votes to emerge first runner up. Mr. Soyinka was closely followed by EA Stallings with 918 votes, Haldane Sean (206) and Gregson Ian (75).
In a message posted on the same Facebook page, Mr. Soyinka, who sounded gracious in defeat, was full of appreciation to Ms. Newlyn, his main sponsor, whom he bestowed the title of Eleto Ab’ija N’badi – Strategic Grand Marshal.
“The votes have been cast, and the new Oxford Professor of Poetry elected. I raise a huge goblet to my main sponsor, Professor Lucy Newlyn – upon whom I have bestowed the title of Eleto Ab’ija N’badi – Strategic Grand Marshal – and to her creative team of campaigners and supporters, her family and all. They all share the responsibility for getting me truly caught up in the excitement generated by this historic union of the poetic and democratic Muses. As we say at home, may their shadows never shrink,” he wrote.
Not being known to miss a chance at humour, Mr. Soyinka took a satirical swipe at Nigeria’s tainted electoral process suggesting that the outcome of the poll might have been different if he was allowed to introduce some Nigerian politicians in the election.
“Mind you, if only they’d allowed me to import a small team of our seasoned electoral jugglers from the home front….ah well!”
Mr. Soyinka said he had hoped to win the contest to achieve what he described as “Derek Walcott agenda”.
“I must now concede a secret regret! What I had wistfully nursed as my “Derek Walcott” agenda must sadly be relinquished. In my view, one of the three most invigorating poets of this age, acceptance of my own nomination – as I frankly admitted to my sponsors – was significantly propelled by the thought of “serving out his time”, he wrote.
Derek Walcott, a West Indian poet and the 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was the leading candidate for the Oxford Professor of Peotry in 2009 but was forced to withdraw his candidacy after news of a sexual harassment against him overshadowed the contest. Ruth Padel who was later elected to the post was forced to resign after the Daily Telegraph showed that she alerted journalists about Mr. Walcott’s case.
“Finally, from the rockhills of Abeokuta to the wilds of Yorkshire, to which I was adopted native so many years ago, a hand across time and distance to Simon Armitage. May his inspiration never run dry,” Mr Soyinka wrote.
Meanwhile, the announcement of Mr. Armitage as the winner has angered many British supporters of Mr. Soyinka. The UK Telegraph newspaper reports that Andrew Franklin, the founder of Profile Books who has published Mr. Soyinka’s work, called the decision “collective madness”.
“Why couldn’t Oxford have voted for its first ever black professor of poetry? Simon Armitage is good but this is a collective failure of imagination. It just would have been nice to see Oxford do something different.
“Maybe Oxford is just full of dull old farts who only vote for the obvious. I don’t think they have anything to be proud of here,” said Mr. Franklin.
Mr. Soyinka’s failure to win the prestigious post has been narrowed down to the comment of Melvyn Bragg, a famous broadcaster and author, who originally voted for Mr. Soyinka but later withdrew his support to pitch tent with Mr. Armitage. Mr. Bragg had said at 81 Mr. Soyinka was too old for the post and will not be fully committed to the task that comes with it.
He said Mr. Soyinka “has not written much poetry recently and I now wonder how often he would bother to come to Oxford. Soyinka is a grand man and would regard it as a grand post. I also query his age”.
The voting was open to all Oxford graduates who registered an interest. Mr. Bragg was eligible as a former student of Wadham College. The winner must give a minimum of three lectures a year, for a stipend of £12,000, and the tenure is five years.
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