Ruth Padel

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Ruth Sophia Padel
Ruth in Etz Hayyim B.jpg
Born 8 May 1946
Wimpole Street, London
Nationality British
Occupation Poet, author
Website
http://www.ruthpadel.com

Ruth Sophia Padel FRSL FZS (/pəˈdɛl/ pə-DEL) (born 8 May 1946) is a British poet and non-fiction author known for her poetry criticism, nature writing, and connections with music, science and conservation[1][2][3] and recently a novelist.[4][5] She broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 and 4 on poetry, wildlife and music,[6][7] and is on the Board of the Zoological Society of London, active in promoting its global conservation through literary programmes.[8] She teaches Creative Writing at Kings College London.[9] She is Writer in Residence at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden,[6][7][10] and blogs on their productions.[11]

Biography[edit]

Padel is daughter of psychoanalyst John Hunter Padel and Hilda, daughter of Sir (James) Alan Noel Barlow 2nd Baronet and Nora Barlow, née Darwin, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, through whom Padel is Darwin's great-great-grandchild.[12] Her brother is historian Oliver Padel; cousins include prison reformer Una Padel, sculptor Phyllida Barlow and biographer Randal Keynes, her uncle is Horace Barlow. Padel was born in Wimpole Street where her great-grandfather Sir Thomas Barlow[13] practised medicine.[14][15][16][17][18] She attended North London Collegiate School, studied classics at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford where she sang in Schola Cantorum of Oxford,[19][20][21] wrote a PhD on Greek poetry, and was first Bowra Research Fellow at Wadham College Oxford which altered its Statutes for her to accommodate female Fellows. She was thus among the first women to become Fellows of formerly all-male Oxford colleges. She taught Greek at Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London,[14] taught opera in the Modern Greek Department at Princeton University, has lived extensively in Greece, and in Paris where she sang in the Choir of Église Saint-Eustache, Paris.[22] Her publishing career began in 1985, while she was teaching Greek at Birkbeck College, with a poetry pamphlet. Later she left academe to support herself by reviewing and publish her first collection, 1990.[23][24] She was married to philosopher Myles Burnyeat.[25]

Poetry[edit]

Padel has published nine collections. Four in the 1990s, when she won the 1996 UK National Poetry Competition,[26] and four between 2002 and 2012: most recently The Mara Crossing whose form is said to revivify the prosimetrum, a mediaeval mix of poetry and prose,[27][28] which addresses animal and human migration.[29][30]

Style and Themes[edit]

Padel's themes include music, science, nature, painting, history, wildlife and human relations.[31][32] Her stylistic hallmarks are said to be rich imagery, technical skill and musicality;[33] wit, passion and lyrical intelligence, internal rhyme, half-rhyme, enjambment and unusual energy within and against the line,[34][35][36][37][38] 'As if Wallace Stevens had hijacked Sylvia Plath with a dash of punk Sappho thrown in."[3][34][39] Quoted influences include Gerard Manley Hopkins and Greek choral lyric.[40]

From 1998 to 2004, date of her last conventional collection The Soho Leopard, Padel's collections reflect simultaneously written non-fiction: music (for I’m a Man - Sex, Gods and Rock ‘n’ Roll); technical attention to the poetic line (as in 52 Ways of Looking At A Poem, exemplified in poems such as 'Icicles Round a Tree in Dumfrieshire' her National Poetry Competition winner);[41] and wildlife (as in Tigers in Red Weather).[42] Her subsequent collections Darwin - A Life in Poems and The Mara Crossing include prose, biology and history.[43] More recent poems reflect an interest in the Middle East: on Pieter Bruegel’s "Triumph of Death",[44][45] the 2002 Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,[46] "Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth",[47] which she has stated came from hearing Le Trio Joubran;[48] in addition to a conversation with Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti,[49] and Introduction to the posthumous diary and poems of Mahmoud Darwish.[50]

Migration[edit]

Padel's unusual poems and prose book "The Mara Crossing" [51] is said to be a sweeping, experimental volume of mixed poetry and prose about migration.[52] Migrants, cellular, animal or human, migrate to survive; human migration is inextricable from trade, invasion, colonization and empire.[53][54][55]"Home is where you start from, but where is a swallow's real home? And what does "native" mean if the English Oak is an immigrant from Spain?"[56] Padel supported and read for the "Making It Home" project supported by the Refugee Survival Trust in Glasgow,[57] which used poetry-based film-making to build bridges between two groups of women across Scotland: refugees supported by Maryhill Integration Network (Glasgow) and local women from Women Supporting Women in Pilton, Edinburgh.

Poetry, Science, Darwin[edit]

Engaged in relating poetry and science,[58][59][60][61] Padel has written on cell migration for The Scientist,[62] was a judge for the 2012 Wellcome Trust Science Book Prize [63] and the 2005 Aventis Science Prize for the Royal Society[64] has written poems on genetics and zoology,[65][66] and her book on migration is said to connect micro-level cell migration with macro-level social migration.[67][68] An interest in combining poetry, science and religion is reflected in poems on genetics,[69][70] debates on poetry and prayer with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury[71][72][73][74] lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons and a residency at the Environment Institute, University College London.[7] Her poems on Charles Darwin employ Darwin's writings, letters and journals to address his life, family and science.[3][75][76] They were received as innovative work by scientists[77] and the literary community as a "new species" of biography in verse,[35][78][79] whose emotional centre is the Darwins' marriage,[80] shaken by divergent religious belief and the death of a daughter.[35] The book's staging by the Mephisto Stage Company, Ireland, was described as intensifying the musicality of the verse and dramatic interplay between the scientific and the spiritual that permeates this collection.[81] Since Padel is a Darwin descendant, the book was also a family memoir.[82] Her preface illuminates the role of Padel’s grandmother, Nora Barlow, who in editing Darwin's Autobiography restored a passage in which Darwin said he did not see how anyone could wish the doctrine of hell to be true; this had been deleted by the first editor, Darwin's son Francis, at his mother's request. Padel's poems connected Darwin's loss of his mother as a child with his passion for collecting;[83] and linked his early scientific writing with his taxidermy teacher in Edinburgh John Edmonstone, a freed slave from Guiana.[84]

Criticism and Teaching[edit]

Padel teaches writing poetry at Kings College London. From 1998 to 2001 she pioneered The Sunday Poem, a weekly column in London's Independent on Sunday in readings of contemporary poems she collected in her popular books 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem and The Poem and the Journey.[85] As Chair of the UK Poetry Society 2004-2007, she presided over the establishment of poetry 'Stanzas' across the UK.[14][86] In 2010 she chaired Judges for the Forward Poetry Prize,[87] in 2011 delivered the Housman Lecture at the Hay Festival on "The Name and Nature of Poetry."[88] and began Radio 4's Poetry Workshop: a series of programmes on writing poetry in which she leads workshops with poetry groups across the UK.[89][90][91][92][93] Her books on reading poetry and the column from which they grew influenced a decade of writing about poetry in the UK,[94] followed by her Newcastle University 'Bloodaxe' Lectures on poetry's use of silence, Silent Letters of the Alphabet.[95] Her criticism is reported to employ close analysis, knowledge of Greek poetics, myth, metaphor, tone and rhyme; she is said to read with aural acuity, generosity and no polemic; her precision "does not obscure but builds the big picture", addressing the general reader but with "utmost attention to the page".[40][96][97]

She has written introductions to the works of Palestinian poets Mahmoud Darwish, Mourid Barghouti and Ramsey Nasr, and British poets Walter Ralegh, Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins.[98] At the opening festival of the T S Eliot Festival at Little Gidding in 2006, 70 years after Eliot's visit there, Padel described the contrast between Eliot's memories of Little Gidding and his experience of The Blitz whilst writing the poem. "It reminded him there was still a place that had a sense of truth."[99][100] She returned to this moment in her Foreword to the posthumous volume of Mahmoud Darwish, comparing his sense of the poet's role in a time of violence to that of Seamus Heaney in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and of Eliot during the London blitz.[101]

Non-fiction[edit]

Scholarship and Greek Myth[edit]

Padel's non-fiction began with books for Princeton University Press on ancient Greek drama and the mind.[102][103][104] In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self explores the way Greek ideas of inwardness shaped European notions of the self.[103] She used anthropology and psychoanalysis to support her thesis that male Greek culture spoke of the mind as mainly "female" and receptive rather than "male" and active.[105] Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Madness in Greek and Other Tragedy investigates madness in tragedy from the Greeks to Shakespeare and the moderns, parsing different views of madness in different societies.[105] She presented the tragic hero as embodiment of the human mind, 'which lives catastrophe, suffers damage and endures.'[105]

Her subsequent work I'm A Man: Sex, Gods and Rock 'n' Roll(2000) argued that rock music began as a ‘wishing well of masculinity,' which drew on mythic connections between male sexuality, aggression, anxiety, misogyny and violence which derived from Ancient Greece. Padel has stated that she intended this to focus on women's voices but then felt she ought first to pick apart the maleness of rock music.[106] The book had a mixed reception from male reviewers. Women reviewers described it as original, beautifully expressed, vivid, amusing and convincing;[107] Rock writers Charles Shaar Murray and Casper Llewellyn Smith described it as 'provocative and fascinating' and her analysis of rock's misogyny 'dazzling.'[106]

Nature Writing: Wildlife and Conservation[edit]

Padel is on the Council of the Zoological Society of London[108] and an Ambassador for New Networks for Nature, an alliance of practitioners in different fields, artistic and scientific, who celebrate Britain's nature and wildlife.[109] Her account of wild tiger conservation,[106] drawing on her scientific background and Darwinian descent,[110] was valued internationally for quality of nature writing, insights on conservation, travel writing on little-known parts of the world such as Sumatra, Bhutan and Ussuriland, and ear for dialogue.[110][111][112][113] and portrait of both the tiger and the field-zoologist.[112]

Fiction[edit]

Padel's novel Where the Serpent Lives, focussing on wildlife crime in India and the UK,[111][114][115][116] was noted for vivid nature writing, innovative use of science and an animal's eye viewpoint.[115][117][118][119] In India and UK, reviewers commented on the imaginative connections between nature, poetry and science.[120] "She has done for the forests of Karnataka and Bengal what Amitav Ghosh did for the Sundarbans in The Hungry Tide."[111][114][115][120][121][122]

Music, Opera and Radio[edit]

Padel writes an opera blog for Royal Opera House Covent Garden [123] and broadcasts on radio on music, poetry, nature and the environment. As a choral singer, in Radio 3's programme "The Choir", she asked "What is the voice of a choir?" [124] In "Wild Things", a series of radio essays, she explored the myths and ecology of British wild animals. She has broadcast a series of BBC Radio 3 opera interval talks and has stated that if she could choose any other career it would be that of opera director.[125] She has written on opera and a sixteenth-century madrigal for the London Review of Books,[126][127] and in a Radio 3 essay series, Writers as Musicians, she spoke about playing viola,[128] an instrument whose "inner voice" illustrates her Newcastle Poetry Lectures Silent Letters of the Alphabet,.[129][130] For BBC Radio 4 she has written and presented features on writers, scientists and composers including Hans Christian Andersen,[14] Edward Elgar, Charles Darwin and W.S. Gilbert.[14] As guest on Desert Island Discs.,[15][131][132] chosen works included Beethoven String Quartet Opus 132, Verdi's Requiem, "Down by the Salley Gardens" sung by Kathleen Ferrier, "I’m Ready for You" sung by Muddy Waters, a Cretan folksong and "The Boys from Piraeus", from the film Never on Sunday.[133][134] Her luxury was a herd of deer.[135]

Books[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • Alibi 1985
  • Summer Snow 1990
  • Angel 1993
  • Fusewire 1996
  • Rembrandt Would Have Loved You 1998
  • Voodoo Shop 2002
  • Soho Leopard 2004
  • Darwin - A Life in Poems 2009
  • The Mara Crossing 2012

Criticism and Editing[edit]

  • 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem: How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life 2002
  • The Poem and the Journey 2006
  • Silent Letters of the Alphabet 2010
  • Walter Ralegh, Selected Poems 2010
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson (Folio Society, Introduction and Notes) 2007
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins (Folio Society, Introduction) 2011

Non-Fiction[edit]

  • In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self 1992
  • Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness 1995
  • I'm a Man: Sex, Gods and Rock 'n' Roll 2000
  • Tigers in Red Weather 2005

Fiction[edit]

  • Where the Serpent Lives 2010

Residencies, Awards, Appointments[edit]

Padel is Writer in Residence at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, was Poet in Residence for the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in 2002,[14] opened the 2009 Edinburgh International Book Festival with a reading from 'Darwin - A Life in Poems,' and in 2010 curated for them a series of literary events around “Writing the Family”.[136] She has been Writer in Residence at Christ's College, Cambridge[137] and as first Writer in Residence at Somerset House she inaugurated the Writers' Talks at the Courtauld Institute of Art.[138][139][140][141] In March 2009 she read and discussed Darwin at the University of Havana, at the Poetry Society of America in Lillian Vernon House, New York and at the New York Botanical Garden.[142] She has given talks and readings on conservation, nature, nature writing and the environment in Mumbai, at the Bombay Natural History Society and Prithvi Theatre.[143][144] and was Resident Poet in the Environment Institute, University College London, 2010–2011.[7] She was Judge for the 1996 T S Eliot Poetry Prize,[145] the 2005 Royal Society Aventis Prize for Science Books,[146] has twice been Judge for the National Poetry Competition (1999, 2009),[147] chaired the Judges for the 2010 Forward Poetry Prize,[148] was on the Final Judging Panel for 2010 Costa Book Awards[149] and Judge for the 2012 Wellcome Trust Science Book Prize.[150]

Oxford Professor of Poetry[edit]

Padel is the first woman to be elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford. In 2009 she was elected on 297 votes. (Predecessors James Fenton and Christopher Ricks were elected on 228 and 214 votes; a new online voting system now allows a wider electorate.)[20][160][161][162][163] Her election took place in a media storm, when pages from a University of Illinois publication detailing sexual harassment charges at Boston University and Harvard University against her rival Derek Walcott were sent anonymously to Oxford academics. Walcott's candidature had not been controversial although a minority at Oxford counselled against him, on grounds of his U.S. university record. Walcott withdrew his candidacy.[164][164] Padel criticized the anonymous missives, said "I wish he had not pulled out" and denied connection with them but the press widely alleged her involvement citing an email in which she had directed a reporter to evidence of Walcott's misconduct, writing that 'this might make good copy on what Oxford wants from its Professors' .[165][166][167][168][169] There was no evidence that anything Padel had done led to Walcott's withdrawal[170][171] but Padel resigned, saying she did not want to do the job under suspicion.[20][168][172][173][174][175][176][177] American commentators attributed public treatment of Padel to a gender war.[178][179] British commentators explained it by misogyny;[180] or ‘toxicity of the metropolitan media’.:[181] it was remarked that the story "had everything, from sex claims to allegations of character assassination.",[20] allowing the press "simultaneously to pursue allegations in Walcott's past, and criticize Padel for having mentioned these allegations as a source of voters' disquiet".[164] Asked if she would encourage Walcott to stand again, Padel replied, "Yes, if he wants. I think he'd do good lectures."[182] Letters to British newspapers criticized media handling of the affair: both unfair denigration of Padel, "justly held in high regard for her poetry and teaching," and unfair pursuit of Walcott's past. It was said that Oxford had "missed out for the worst of reasons on an inspirational teacher; Walcott removed the decision from the electorate by his own choice; Padel should not have been made to pay for his decision to confront neither his accusers nor his past."[183][184] On Newsnight Review,[185] poet Simon Armitage and poetry promoter Josephine Hart expressed regret about her resignation. "Ruth's a good person," Simon Armitage said. "I don't think she should have resigned, she would have been good." Padel subsequently supported Geoffrey Hill in the following election in which Hill was appointed.

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External links[edit]