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A Statement from the former Poetry Society Director, Judith Palmer

July 27, 2011

On Friday 22 July 2011 members of the Poetry Society recorded a resounding No Confidence vote in its Board of Trustees at an Extraordinary General Meeting called to discuss the ramifications of the recent spate of resignations at the organisation. One of those resignations was mine, yet the Board neither invited me to attend nor to present my evidence to members. In the hope of ensuring that the meeting stayed focused on the Board’s alleged reckless financial mismanagement, and on the urgent need to call this to account to protect the Society’s future, I forwarded only a brief outline statement.  Given comments made at that meeting, I would now like to expand on this here.

On 19 May 2011 I reluctantly resigned from my position as Director of the Poetry Society. I explained my reasons to the trustees, stating:

“I loved the job I had, and the team I worked with. I was proud of our achievements and was looking forward to delivering the 4-year programme which had just been agreed. In a few weeks, the Trustees’ unilateral decisions, have made the Society a very unhappy and unproductive place. There’s total confusion. Non-executive trustees have unilaterally taken over responsibility for areas of my job. Agreed staff procedures aren’t being followed. Funding relationships are being mishandled. I’m no longer free to run the organisation using my professional judgement, and under these circumstances I cannot be held responsible, if the organisation begins to fail.”

Decisions were increasingly being made that I had no knowledge of or influence in – decisions made outside the contexts of normal, open, minuted meetings. I had a duty to carry out the instructions of Trustees, but found myself unable to reconcile this with my obligations to staff, funders, and members.

When I left, the Poetry Society was in excellent shape. I wished it well, and hoped it would flourish under the good stewardship of the Board of Trustees.

These are some of the circumstances that led to my resignation:

On 30 March 2011, after a year of huge uncertainty about the Society’s future, we received the good news that our funding bid to the Arts Council had been successful, and we had been awarded a 31% increase in funding.

Two days later, I was called to a meeting by the Poetry Society’s Chair of Trustees, Peter Carpenter. I believed we were going to be discussing the urgent problems facing other organisations in the Poetry Sector. Quite out of the blue, I found there was something else on the agenda.

The Chair told me he’d been waiting until after the funding announcement to tell me about a proposal put to him by Fiona Sampson, the Editor of Poetry Review, a proposal that he’d been discussing with her since January without my knowledge. She requested a new working arrangement whereby she would reduce her days, work mainly from home, and report directly to the Board. I must emphasise that this was put forward as a permanent arrangement. It was initially communicated to me verbally and, a few days later, in writing.

The timing was completely unexpected. Although the relative integration / independence of the Society’s magazine Poetry Review within the Society’s activities had been a regular subject of debate throughout the Editor’s tenure, and long pre-dated my appointment, this had not been a recent subject of discussion.

In September 2008, before my time as Director of the Poetry Society, Fiona Sampson approached the Society’s Board of Trustees with a similar proposal. She requested that her fixed-term contract be made permanent and that the structure of the Society be altered to raise her status and allow her to report directly to the Board rather than continue to be managed by the Director. The Board rejected both suggestions (7 October 2008). The Arts Council was involved in the discussions, and supported the Board’s rejection of the proposal at a subsequent Board meeting I attended on 20 November 2008.

I queried with Peter Carpenter the timing of this revival of Ms Sampson’s proposal in 2011. We had only just submitted a detailed 4-year plan to the Arts Council that had been supported fully by the Board. The plan had reflected a fully-integrated Poetry Society, and this was the vision endorsed by the Arts Council. To make such a significant change now seemed to me both dishonest and dangerous. Our funding offer from the Arts Council remained only conditional.

Carpenter apologised, but explained that poets were putting pressure on him, the Board were going to split over it, and that Ms Sampson had suggested she would otherwise leave.

I raised serious operational concerns about how the proposal would work in practice, explained that many other members of staff would be affected and they would need to be consulted. I explained that the staff had all been working hard in an atmosphere of great uncertainty and did not deserve a major upheaval just when they were expecting to enjoy some well-earned stability. I must emphasise that I did not reject the proposal: however, I gave my opinion that the proposal was potentially destabilising and could jeopardise the Society’s future funding; and that our urgent priority ought to be playing an active role supporting those poetry organisations that had received cuts in funding, rather than looking inwards. I clearly needed more time to consider this. The Chair’s response was unexpected. I was forbidden to discuss the matter further with him, in an email dated 2 April, 11.36.

There followed, in my opinion, the most extraordinarily stubborn and ill-considered sequence of actions by the Board. A confidential Board meeting was called (4 April, 08.34). I petitioned the Chair four times to think carefully before preventing the Arts Council from attending the meeting as stipulated in all previous funding agreements. The Chair replied: (5 April, 08.09) “There is no need for ACE to know of the content of our board discussion… It is confidential to the board and thus only the business of the board.” I pleaded to be given the chance to gather information for the Board in order to help them make an informed decision. (5 April, 09.16). This was refused. I asked to know what would be discussed, and was told that it would be only ‘organisational structure and related issues’ (12 April, 09.31). I was not invited to attend the meeting, and neither were the staff who usually attended Board meetings (Paul Ranford and Rebecka Mustajarvi). However, I would be required to return, unaccompanied, to hear  ‘the outcome of our discussion’.

I was unprepared for the nature of this confidential meeting on 13 April. With no independent witnesses present, and with no preamble, I was read out two Board decisions: ‘There will be a formal job evaluation of the Director’s role & responsibilities’ and ‘The Board accept the proposal as set forward by the Review Editor’. I asked to discuss this, and was told that that was inappropriate. There was no written proposal to discuss, no costings, no time-frame, no implementation framework, no staff consultation plan. I prided myself on running a professional organisation and I was responsible for safeguarding the employment rights of staff. I was responsible to funders and members for delivering against agreed objectives. If the Board were not prepared even to allow me input into such significant decision-making, I warned them I would have to consider my position. I further warned them that they were acting in disregard of my rights and interests and I might have to consider resignation.

This meeting was timed immediately before I was due to go on a long-planned trip to Australia, and I took the precautionary measure of sending a formal letter (17 April) requesting that no organisational change be made until proper discussion could take place on my return. The Board waited until my return, but implemented the proposed changes immediately and without discussion (10 May). Peter Carpenter confirmed he would “split off Poetry Review so it reports to me [Peter Carpenter]”. I feared this was the first step towards a much more profound separation of the Review from the Society.

As the Board began to take legal advice, they appear to have realized the depths of the hole they had dug for themselves. They insisted the restructuring proposal was not permanent, but just a 3-month trial (though with no end game declared for determining whether it would continue or not). And they appear to have tried to find things to justify their actions in retrospect. They maintained suddenly that the proposal was being implemented to ease my workload, for example; or that it was as a result of strangers talking at a party regarding an apparent rift.  I do not accept that any actions were taken as a result of a desire to ease my workload, and I have been given no evidence of people talking at a party. Indeed, I have received inconsistent accounts of this alleged conversation.  My job description was then re-written and casually presented to me. Finally, months after I left, I learned for the first time, from remarks made by the Acting Chair at the EGM, and reported in the press, that apparently Trustees were giving me a ’breathing space’ from contact with another member of staff – even though they had reassured me time and again there had been no complaints about my management.

I have also been told that Peter Carpenter rang the previous Chair, Anne Marie Fyfe, and asked that he be allowed to use an e-mail from her to “get at” me. I had previously telephoned Ms Fyfe to check a couple of facts about things from her time as Chair. Peter Carpenter  then threatened me with the possibility of legal action over this supposed “breach of confidentiality”, and stressed there would be action taken if I talked about the Poetry Society to anyone again.  This seemed patently absurd. My view is that both of these actions were attempts to discredit and intimidate me after I had raised my concerns over the way the Board were proceeding.

I raised concerns about the divisiveness of giving one member of staff preferential terms and conditions and perhaps making her feel isolated; I raised concerns about the need for proper consultation with staff; I raised concerns about the need to have a structured plan to avoid operational confusion; I raised concerns that there was no business case for the changes imposed; and I raised concerns about spending and funding. I also raised concerns about the way I felt I had been treated personally and what I felt to be unacceptable and unremitting bullying behaviour towards me.

If the Board were implementing organisational changes, I asked why they didn’t recognize the necessity of contacting the HR consultants we had on retainer for employment law advice – who could and should have been consulted, free of charge, and whose indemnity policy that protected the Poetry Society was now no longer valid as their advice had not been sought. An invoice from lawyers Harbottle & Lewis was presented to me, and I had to sign a cheque for expenditure that I had been unaware had been commissioned by the Trustees. I had previously secured the services of a legal firm pro bono for the Society, and was never asked if we had any existing arrangements in place before Harbottles were instructed.  I believe Members and funders should have full information as to how funds are being spent, and it is for that reason that I raise this point.

Eventually, there was chaos, with different Trustees in and out the building, contacting different members of staff directly (rather than going through me as was usual practice) with random unplanned instructions. Trustees insisted I drop important planned priorities to attend unplanned meetings about their ‘organisational changes’. On one occasion the insistence that I attend a meeting at 24 hours’ notice prevented me from preparing for a presentation on which a £100,000 funded project depended. When I requested the proposed meeting be rescheduled to enable me to carry out my job effectively, my request was refused. I asked again if I could give my view on the place of Poetry Review within the structure of the Society, and was told (9 May) “please would you explain why you assume that the status of a meeting that members of the board choose to have with the Editor depends upon ‘the contents of our discussion’.

I wrote Trustees a letter (11 May) outlining my grave concerns about the consequences of the Trustees’ recent diversion from our agreed priorities for the current year. Included amongst my concerns was this: “It is a condition of Arts Council funding that the organisation tell the Arts Council if it wants to make significant changes to the agreed programme…We urgently need to discuss  the further impact of recent events upon our Arts Council funding. I am concerned that the funding was awarded to us on the basis of a certain set of circumstances, which have now been fundamentally changed without any discussion with me let alone the Arts Council.” I reassured Trustees that we had an excellent relationship with the Arts Council, and in my professional judgement ACE would be supportive as long as we talked things through openly and honestly with them.

I found the behaviour of certain Trustees increasingly intimidating and on 17 May I received a direct instruction to conceal information regarding issues within the Poetry Society from the Arts Council at a forthcoming meeting. Despite the fact that our funding agreement insists “The success of the relationship relies on effective communication and the sharing of information”,  I was told I must convince the Arts Council it was ‘good news, good news, good news’. I was told that if I let the Arts Council know I had any concerns about governance, I would face immediate disciplinary action. I had grave concerns about governance, and would not lie about this, and so on 19 May, I resigned.  I felt I had no option but to take this step.

Peter Carpenter accepted my resignation, and on 20 May, he and Trustee (now Acting-Chair) Laura Bamford, arrived unannounced at the Society’s offices to cut off my email and tell staff they were not to let me back in the building. I was not in the office, since I had booked a day off. They didn’t think to tell me personally my employment had been immediately terminated and I would not be required to serve the notice that I had given them. I was on a train to Liverpool when a letter was couriered to my home address, which I therefore did not receive until two days later. Certain members of staff were apparently invited to read through my emails while I still remained uninformed that I was no longer working for the Society. There was to be no handover – no cancellation of meetings, no changing of bank signatories, no guidance notes left or to-do lists talked through.

This is only a brief summary of the events that led me to resign. It was not (as has been suggested) because of my working relationship with a member of my team or due to my workload.

To deflect attention from their own actions, it seems the Board have tried to throw people off the stench with false allegations about myself and Fiona Sampson, and the prospect of legal action.

I have not taken legal action. I have repeatedly reassured Trustees that I have no wish to take legal action. The Poetry Society’s Board of Trustees, however, has already spent £24,000 on legal advice – on a range of matters – in the few months since they first adopted a new management style and decided to step beyond the bounds of their usual remit. Last year, there was zero expenditure on legal advice. In addition to the £24,000 already spent this year, at least £3000 has been spent on unplanned additional PR, supposedly to mitigate reputational risk. To give you an idea what these sums mean to an organization like the Poetry Society, some of its staff earn around £17,500 a year. Imagine how those staff must feel, watching this wanton expenditure. Imagine how painful it is for us to contemplate the toil and the toll of raising the money that the Trustees have so recklessly thrown away.

Members must now ask whether these Trustees were acting in good faith and in the best interests of the Poetry Society. Given the current state of the Poetry Society’s Arts Council funding (suspended until further notice), the Board’s ‘no-one need know’ approach does not appear to have served the Society well. Out of concern for my colleagues I have been wary of making the Board’s actions public. It seems quite clear, however, that funding cannot flow again, until the truth is out and a new Board is up.

Judith Palmer

­­­­

______________________________________

All of the above can be supported by letters, texts, emails, and witness statements.

Those Trustees on the Poetry Society Board throughout 2011 were  Laura Bamford, Alan Jenkins, Emma Bravo, Jacob Sam-La Rose, John Simmons, Duke Dobing, Wendy Jones, John Richmond, Barry Kernon, Jacqui Rowe and Anne Jenkins.

Robyn Bolam and Peter Carpenter have since resigned.

_______________________________________

27th July 2011 10:00 am – This post has been updated with minor corrections

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82 Comments
  1. Sibyl permalink
    August 1, 2011 7:03 am

    I can entirely understand that – as Roddy Lumsden pointed out – some poets will lobby to maintain/increase the representation of particular strands of work within a magazine. But there are particular difficulties when the magazine can’t exist without public subsidy, when public subsidy (via ACE) is shrinking overall, and when the kinds of work which attract Arts Council subsidy are more about innovation, increasing access etc — rather than providing a secure platform for
    already established artists.

    A good Chief Executive who is trying to secure her or his organisation’s future during difficult times will appreciate that. You would imagine that the Chair of a Board of Trustees would realise that too.

    • August 1, 2011 12:03 pm

      You do realise, Sibyl, that what Dr. Sampson has done with Poetry Review was specifically commended by the Arts Council in giving their grant. A magazine run by a committee is likely to prove mediocre.
      It’s true that the most ‘famous’ poets don’t consistently write the finest poems, and no doubt the editor has turned down some who may be among those writing negatively about her. She also brings some relatively unknown but talented poets to the wide and discerning readership of this excellent journal.
      In my own experience, my work has been both accepted and rejected by Poetry Review. When I get a rejection from any magazine, I look at the poem again, and if I still like it the way it is, I send it elsewhere. Eventually it gets published. I don’t expect every editor to like everything I write. I’m also not looking for a job as editor, so I don’t feel competitive. Perhaps others would like that job?
      I hope what I have written in this website has been helpful. I don’t often bother with websites and blogs. They’re too time-consuming.
      With all good wishes,
      Leah

  2. July 31, 2011 12:08 pm

    By being part of the “opposition” to some of the ideas here that have taken on the tone of a mob mentality, I have received a message from Martin, which followed a message by Katy on my FB page, that some of my words ought to be censored here at this blog. The basis for the elimination of my comunications is that I am being accused of being ad hominem and abusive, two things I most definitely never am. So I am getting caught going against the flow of the mob scene, which I am starting to believe may have been behind the action of no connfidence in the board. What is below is an e-mail I sent to Martin this morning, when he seems to have ignored my answers back to him last night. One of my communications was to let me know wht and which post he would delete before he dletes it so that we can discuss the matter. The other was in response to him, where I pointes out two posts that were indeed abusive, one by Angela France, which was abusive of me, and the other one by Alex, which was abusive of Fiona Sampson as well as the board.

    ~~~~~

    Hi Martin,

    I asked of you last night, which would have been the wee hours in Britain, what post from me are you considering removing. Have you changed your mind? If you have not, then please tell me which post(s) you are considering removing so that we may discuss this before you do so. I do not make ad hominem remarks, so I am very sure you are making an error in judgment in your considerations. I understand that you could have been busy this morning, but I was expecting a message back from you earlier than this. The action of removing my words seemed as if it was going to be taken soon, after all.

    You also have not responded to me on the two back-to-back insulting posts which I pointed out to you.

    I will place this message onto my Facebook thread which is following your blog discussions and also in the Judith Palmer thread at your blog where most of my remarks have been made, so that this does not get swept under the rug.

    Thank you.

    Yours,
    Rus

    • July 31, 2011 2:08 pm

      Rus, you’ve more than had your say. To accuse others of a mob mentality simply because most people disagree with you is rather churlish. Your posts consistently misstate the facts in order to support personal contentions about the worth and culpability (or lack thereof) of certain individuals. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t see anything more than gut feelings backing it up.

      • July 31, 2011 4:34 pm

        Hi Jon,

        In fact, I am not churlish. Nor do my posts mistake the facts. The reason I began posting was the horrible way people were being treated here, with super-contrived justifications, one post after another. And now I am one who is under attack, now by you. I don’t deserve to be treated so churlishly, by you or anyone else on this blog.

        And there you see my contention. I must be churlish if I disagree with you. But you are not churlish in your disagreeing with me–or are you. Certainly I do not deserve stones flying from your negative vocabulary.

        The only negative adjective I have used toward anyone was to refer to Judith Palmer’s quitting as “incompetent”–which in fact it was. But this word is what was being used against the board by the mob, and probably before the no confidence vote was ever taken. Thus, I used the word in order to be a mirror to those so that such churlishness could be exposed. The problem is with the blind righteousness of the mob mentality that has taken over, and I believe now to be what ousted the board.

        Now look at the mess. There is no one left to orient new board members, unless a good number of the ousted board members are re-instated.

        You see, “churlishness” is what is coming from the mob scene, not from the opposition.

      • anne permalink
        July 31, 2011 4:47 pm

        There will be continuity. The old board is still in post until the AGM, unless they step down sooner. The newly co-opted trustees will join them at the board meeting on 4 August. This information is available elsewhere on the site. The EGM did not oust the board as the members don’t have the power to do that. It expressed no confidence in them, after listening to their own admissions and the facts outlined by Paul Ranford, which you can read elsewhere on this site. His statement is confined to facts which are supported by documentary evidence, as is the post he made here earlier today.

      • Jon permalink
        August 1, 2011 11:38 am

        Rus:

        “In fact, I am not churlish.”

        That’s a matter of opinion. I think that’s exactly how you’re acting, as well as deaf to reason.

        “The reason I began posting was the horrible way people were being treated here …”

        So you keep saying, but the only ‘horrible treatment’ I see here is your own treatment of Palmer by repeatedly stating that her resignation was the first thing that put the ACE grant in jeopardy and now saying that it was incompetent of her. It’s entirely clear from these accounts that the ACE grant was first put in jeopardy through the board’s changing of the internal structure without notice to ACE and by their continued efforts to cut them out of the loop.

        It’s also clear that the board effectively ordered Palmer to conspire in efforts to present a false picture of the internal situation to ACE. I can only conclude that you think charity directors lying to their funders is somehow OK, that it is “incompetent” not to carry out a conscious deceit.

        The repetitious nature of your posts – particular your frequent statements of confidence in the Review and Samspson – make your bias entirely transparent. The only incompetence here is your failure to rein in that insistence such that you might pass for non-partisan. Frankly, no one should accept anything you say as coming from “a concerned and informed observer of the situation” but from a person whose mind is set on bending the facts to suit their personal loyalties. Please do us the courtesy of dropping the pretence.

    • July 31, 2011 8:30 pm

      I made the point in an earlier posting that we should use words carefully. To refer to people on this thread as a mob is a travesty of language.

  3. Paul Ranford permalink
    July 31, 2011 11:22 am

    To Roddy Lumsden

    Roddy I agree with the overall tenor of your posting, and I would also like to understand the answer to the question in your final paragraph. That story is perhaps for another day.

    On matters of fact (the only things on which I will make a contribution) you said::

    “…it’s also wrong to claim (as has widely been claimed) that the Board did authorise the changes to the line management. They were suggestions put forward by the Board and, as much as they did come into place, they did so after the Director’s resignation, when the Board effectively became in charge of such decisions.”

    Forgive me, this is completely incorrect.

    I have available the following minutes and notes of meetings I personally attended and vouch for their accuracy – and the Board will also vouch for their accuracy because they are from the Board’s own record:

    Meeting between Trustees and Staff, 15th April 2011 – “The Board had held a confidential session at the start of their meeting on 13 April” … “agreed… that the Editor of Poetry Review should (at her own request) reduce her hours from 0.8 of a week to 0.6, taking a pay cut of £[X]k; that she should move to flexible working hours; and that she should be line-managed by the Chair or designated member of the Board”

    From the same meeting: “The initial approach on this had not come from the Editor, nor had she stated any grievance. The Chair had in fact approached the Editor in the light of conversations with other people, inside and outside the organisation.”

    From the same meeting: “Paul Ranford asked for specific advice on salary arrangements. The Chair said these should be left as they were for the time being.” [No change to salary has been made, I don’t know why, it can’t be on “legal advice” because any salary sacrifice is completely lawful if it is agreed as part of a reduction in hourly commitment. This phrase “on legal advice” should not be trusted here or elsewhere in Board communications, I think.]

    From the same meeting: “The Chair said that details were yet to be discussed, but management and communication lines would change with immediate effect.”

    At a meeting attended by both Judith and Fiona on 10 May, a script was read out to both Judith and Fiona which said (after setting out the new working arrangements as above) “You both have copies of the benchmarks for all our future inter-actions. These are intended to be helpful for us all – make no mistake, breaching these or unwillingness to work together or look to the future for the benefit of the Po Soc will be taken extremely seriously”. [In the reaction from both Judith and Fiona at this point onwards including their joint walk upstairs, you could have heard a pin drop.]

    So the Board (1) did authorise the changes in line management unilaterally, and with immediate effect (they were not “suggestions”), (2) on the basis of hearsay, (3) did so in confidential meeting (without any consultation whatsoever with Judith or any other member of staff, so I don’t know who the people “inside the organisation” were), (4) did so while Judith was in office (actually over a month before she resigned) and (5) did all these things quite (in my opinion as a shocked observer) belligerently throughout.

    So, Roddy – your assertion that “it’s also wrong to claim (as has widely been claimed) that the Board did authorise the changes to the line management” is not correct – I hope that clears that particular point up.

    I gave some shortened version of these facts in my statement to the EGM (available somewhere on this site). I break confidentiality (not something I do lightly) on these meetings because I believe the principles of openness and transparency supersede, in these circumstances of inappropriate and incorrect management action, the principle of confidentiality. I don’t think the members will sue me.

    I believe that Judith’s statement (also available from the home page) truthfully deals with those points. Or, to be crystal clear, insofar as I have direct personal knowledge of the facts in Judith’s statement, they are true. That’s quite a lot of the facts – I attended several relevant meetings (including both meetings of which I give some details above, the one on 10th May as Judith’s note-taker, at her request). Given that she recently wrote her published statement without reference to me or anybody else as far as I am aware, I am content that the remaining gaps she completes are wholly consistent with the events that occurred and that I did personally observe. It’s a good statement and I have confidence it is verifiable in detail. It’s a good place to start before opining on other matters.

    I have been saying throughout this episode that the issue is not about the Editor. It never was. I know Fiona agrees because she has herself said that to me and to the other Staff. The Minutes above support her view. It was the piece in the Evening Standard that started that hare running, and it’s as much nonsense now as it was then. I have no clue who told the ES that Fiona’s personal views were key to all this; personally I completely accept that she is a baffled bystander caught up, as we all were, in inexplicable (and I argue less than competent) Board action. The Editor was perfectly entitled to ask for a change in working arrangements, it was the Board’s responsibility to manage that request well. I dare to say that they did not, So it’s not right or fair that the discussion should revolve around Fiona. This is not something I’m going to keep saying, I’ve said it enough already and this isn’t the place for me to enter a debate so I’ll push off nicely and with respects to you and other participants here :-)

    Paul Ranford

    • Roddy permalink
      July 31, 2011 4:01 pm

      Well, I ought to stand corrected, but I feel my point has been, understandably, mistaken. Would you agree that the Board had no right to make such an authorisation? As I understand it, though the Board are ultimately in charge of employment in a charity set-up, the employment matters devolve to the Director and he/she has to agree to any decisions on changes to employment practice (unless he/she is the one whose employment is being questioned). So if it was ‘authorised’ it was by mere belligerence and not by the PS’s rules. I’ve heard no suggestion that Judith agreed to the proposed changes on line management and I’m sure she was more than aware that the Board were flouting rules in terms of sitting down senior staff and announcing executive changes. This would have been a main reason for her resignation. Only when JP resigned could the authorisation have any credence, as the Board then had control of day-to-day employment decisions.

      I don’t accept the ‘baffled bystander’ suggestion – it goes against what I have been told by others with knowledge of this situation, including people outside of the Society who had been lobbied on related issues. There was (is) a campaign to devolve Poetry Review and it’s hard to believe that Fiona was not involved in this campaign. A ‘change in working arrangements’ was not all that was going on. One poet supportive of the devolution petitioned me with a list of suggested changes – am I to believe these were to be foisted on Fiona by the poetry hierarchy, via the Board, without her input? I doubt it.

      Looking back at the ES article now – though it is unclear and petty in parts, there is only one contention that has not now been confirmed by later statements and that is that FS had ‘been pushing the focus of the society from education to promoting high-profile poets’. I don’t know whether FS advised on these shifts of aesthetic – but they were, I hear, talked about by the Board (not regarding the Review, but the Society’s general aims), with a suggestion that a member of the education staff was redeployed and with a demand for a full Society reappraisal. ‘The Society should be more about David Harsent and less about teenage poets.’ was the mantra – perhaps it’s apocryphal, but it summed up the discussion for one who was party to these discussions.

      • July 31, 2011 10:13 pm

        Hi Roddy,

        This is from an article that you may have read, in The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/8600135/Poetry-Society-embroiled-in-row-over-funding.html), which seems to support what you say:

        Sources say Fiona Sampson, the editor of the society’s magazine, Poetry Review, has been at the heart of the row after asking for autonomy from the director.

        While Sampson felt that the society, a charitable organisation with almost 4,000 members, should be used to promote high profile poets, rival factions believed its focus should remain rooted in education.

        As Sampson’s campaign gathered pace, she persuaded certain members of the board to back her and others were asked to take sides, it is claimed.

        Secret meetings were held and a general sense of disquiet took hold as individuals pulled in different directions.

        However, here is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/28/poetry-society-mysterious-divisions) which followed and contains quotes from Fiona, which significantly shifts from there, and I have cited this before, so pardon the duplication for the sake of illustration:

        “I have not picked a fight with Judith Palmer,” she said, “and I’m not interested in picking a fight with Judith Palmer.”

        Sampson also rejects recent suggestions that she wanted to focus more on high-profile poets, citing 13 years working in arts education and statistics which show that 20% of the poets published in Poetry Review have yet to publish a book – a proportion she described as “astonishingly high”.

        “My express policy is to honour the slush pile,” she said, “because I always came out of the slush pile myself.”

        But Sampson declined to explain whether the dispute centres on the allocation of the recent ACE funding, as alleged in one report, saying that the spate of resignations is something that she has “no interest in, and no power over”.

        “It has never been the case that the editor has had any role in steering the society as a whole,” she said, “and I haven’t been.”

        But a very significant train of thought was begun by you in your previous post, that you ended:

        Too much of the speculation about the PS is now focussed on the working conditions of one member of staff. We have to ask why the Board were suddenly demanding reappraisals of all PS staff and a reappraisal of the aesthetic of the PS as a whole. We have to ask what outside influences, as mentioned by former Chair Peter Carpenter, were applying pressure on the Board to change the climate at the Society and ask why that was an issue.

        What could those outside influences be? That seems so pertinent now that too much internal searching is being taken, which has really led to too much fault finding. What outside influences are you referring to or are you considering pertinent?

        Also, since you are a former vice chair, I have been curious about how the board hired legal representation. No board from here on out would ever now hire Murdoch’s lawyers, unless they offered services at no charge. So no one would ever be called “incompetent” on this score from here on out no matter what their backgrounds, as long as the no-charge resources would still be available. But when did this become policy, and what internal procedure did they not follow? Was there a book or an e-file, they did not consult, in other words?

    • July 31, 2011 7:17 pm

      Dear Paul Ranford,
      Thank you for this.
      Sincerely,
      Leah Fritz

      • Roddy permalink
        August 1, 2011 1:24 am

        Peter Carpenter mentioned that ‘pressure from poets’ had been a factor on the Board’s decisions. We also know that well-known poets had been lobbying for changes to the relationship between PR and the PS. Some leading poets appeared to feel that the Society had become too tied to education-based concerns and wasn’t serving the needs of poets beyond that side of things. I have sympathy with that view but, from its founding, the Society has been, in theory, an eductaional organisation and in recent times it has attracted funding which has been steered towards those purposes.

        What concerns me is that some of this opposition to the Society’s climate was based on limited knowledge of their projects and a rather stereotyped idea of those projects which foregrounded work with teenage slam poetry and lght-hearted projects like the knitted poem. Judith Palmer addressed this at some length on the Eyewear site, where she noted the many wider projects, commissions and events which had occurred under her Directorship.

        I have previously stated, here and elsewhere, that I believe that some outside influences were acting to try to maintain a status quo (in the PS and elsewhere) which favours certain strands of poetry. There’s nothing new in that – as a publishing editor and anthologist, I’m well aware that we often act to promote and preserve what we believe in. But this lobbying ought not to have influenced things to the point where chaos ensued when those who believed in the proposed changes thought they should force them through without the support of PS staff and their funders. I want PR to stay very close to the PS and feel they need each other. I’m also concerned by a suggestion I have heard – and which I admit is therefore hearsay – from two separate people involved that some board members who voted for the changes and re-evaluations did not actually support them and felt that pushing them into the open was the best chance of them being negated.

        I don’t have specific knowledge about the legal procedures. It’s unusual for there not to be a lawyer on the Board – who would have advised on such matters unless a situation arose where outside lawyers – no charge or otherwise – were required. As I understand it (and I’m no expert here), the legal advice available at no charge would have been on pertinent personnel and governance issues but perhaps not on other issues which the Board felt they wanted advice on.

  4. July 31, 2011 1:35 am

    The making permanent of the editorial post is not especially relevant to the current problems. Many disagree with its outcome, including myself, but it was effected legally and was not an issue that needed to go to the membership. As I understand it, Fiona’s agreed extension, to cover work related to the PS centenary, allowed her to change her contract. This decision did not happen without the knowledge of the PS Director at the time.

    To correct, I hope, a couple of points in Alex’s post, the change was not from 5 to 3 days but from 4 to 3 and Fiona did not ask for the same salary under such a change. The lack of change in salary was supposedly suggested by the Board. I believe it’s also wrong to claim (as has widely been claimed) that the Board did authorise the changes to the line management. They were suggestions put forward by the Board and, as much as they did come into place, they did so after the Director’s resignation, when the Board effectively became in charge of such decisions.

    The Board – and I speak as a former Vice Chair – has no remit to push through such changes unless there is a situation of chaos where the Board feels it needs to shift from its status as an advisory panel to a status where it acts to resolve a desperate situation, and even then, it should act alongside the main funders, ACE, and act under the rules set down by the Society’s rule book, and the Charity Commission. There was no situation of chaos. The Society had just gained an increased grant from its funders, who were happy with the situation at the Society.

    Did the Board act in an inappropriate way? It did. Illegally? Possibly, though there is little to be gained from following that trail now. A previous Board had rejected similar calls for changes to the PS structure, under a previous Director, which suggests this was not, as per the spin, something borne from a clash of personalities in the current situation.

    Too much of the speculation about the PS is now focussed on the working conditions of one member of staff. We have to ask why the Board were suddenly demanding reappraisals of all PS staff and a reappraisal of the aesthetic of the PS as a whole. We have to ask what outside influences, as mentioned by former Chair Peter Carpenter, were applying pressure on the Board to change the climate at the Society and ask why that was an issue.

  5. July 31, 2011 12:35 am

    First item: an apology. I should not have entered into a discussion about a hunt I have no dog in. I was surprised, actually. Having been through similar in-house squabbles involving poets and poetry organizations, naively I figured the situation must be better there, more honorable.

    Second item. Having followed the stream of exchanges, the salient that comes across is pain, confusion, Po Soc members trying to get their footing, so to speak. Were I a member I would be angry at all the principals involved for the fall out. Editor, Director, Board Members. Not sure why I should think so, since, even Dylan Thomas had no sense of honor. But poets should be better than this. That is my conviction. What I read hurts the heart.

    Third item. Both Rus Bowden and I have been taken to task for not understanding UK laws protecting labor. Possibly some put too much stock in UK laws protecting labor. I cannot think of a developed country that does not have the best laws on the books protecting employees. Nor can I think of a developed nation that does not regularly contravene those laws without impugnity, in practice. The UK is no different.

    Last item. I’ve known R. Bowden for a bunch of years. I’ve never known him to make a personal attack, ad hominem like. I have known him to fight, at the expense of his personal standing in poetry orgs, for poets, poetry, and the freedom of expression. Not sure yet if I agree with his take on the Po Soc debacle. Am confident his first concern is with poetry, not personality or position.

    Last transmission on the subject. Goodnight and good luck.

    Terreson

    • July 31, 2011 2:18 am

      Just to note, as people want to know who is aligned how with whom. This issue has been going on for months now, and I have been keeping the poetry world abreast of it through my column. In that time, I cannot recall Terreson and I having a discussion about it, but there could have been a [passing comment here or there. Terreson and I are both poetry lovers, and both sharp as different kinds of tacks, so this discussion attracted us, and from different directions. We have e-mailed about several other poetry topics in the past, we have even posted at each others’ forum, as we each own one, but his and my comments come to this blog independently, in that we have not discussed these matters with each other. We give you across-the-pond perspectives, and maybe a little view into how the world is perceiving what is going on at the Poetry Society, and the ex-Poetry Society as it were. I hope all can tell that we each want this to work out for the best.

      Terrerson is correct. I am a fighter. I have fought back from death, and when that happens, you realize that things like this are important. You cry for what to others seem surfacy reasons. Songs touch you in incredibly different ways. And here, people are getting hurt, through a process that should make all the members proud, that they each can make a difference, and collective do something for the good of their culture.

      A brave and thoughtful post of sanity just came through from Roddy Lumsden. If everyone could please read what he is saying, absorb it for all it’s worth.

  6. Angela France permalink
    July 30, 2011 9:47 pm

    Rus – take a look at the names on the petition. In addition to many of the UK’s best known poets there are people with wide experience in business, law, HR, PR, and – as Bryan above, in charity governance and trustee responsibilities.
    Yet you, in another country and with apparently scant knowledge of UK employent law or charity governance protocols, know better than all of them.

    Genius.

    • July 30, 2011 10:33 pm

      If I could do what I want, I would have a replacement director in there pronto. Each position necessary to the funding would be filled ASAP, and each guideline from the ACE would be met. Thus the funding would no longer be at risk.

      I would back burner all discussion about the poetry editor as it is not the time to be considering that such action. This is part of the reason why Kate Clanchy’s argument was so outrageous. That should not be on the table at this time.

      Genius? Nah, just what ought to be common sense, something I am trying to inject into this discussion.

  7. July 30, 2011 9:30 pm

    I don’t know any of the parties involved in this and I live in Scotland where the Society’s writ hardly exists. However, I do have a great deal of experience of boards and committees, I have written constitutions for voluntary groups and I am very aware how Trustees can get carried along by strong personalities because they don’t want to cause a fuss.

    Having read Judith’s account, and assuming it is truthful which I do, then it’s clear the Chair of the Board and some of those closest to him did not behave correctly or professionally. I don’t know what is going on under the surface. I don’t know what cabals or interest groups there are. I don’t know if there are academic purists shooting at each other from well dug-in bunkers. I am sure there are powerful personalities involved but I am remote from what has happened.

    What I do care about is poetry and poetry education. I care about the staff and their jobs. I care about things being done properly and intelligently and lawfully. I care about integrity. I don’t think extreme language is helpful.

    We are poets. We value words – words that convey truth and meaning. Some of the words used on this thread – and some that you have used – are simply not helpful at all. Some are imprecise. Some are perjorative. But we are looking for solutions. We are looking for possibilities. A new board needs to be elected and given the space and time to put things right if they can.

    Without a full investigation (which some people do not want) it is difficult to see why things have gone so badly wrong. When did it start? Who said what and when and why? The Chair has disappeared back to Tonbridge, apparently. What is his explanation? What is his version of events? Likewise with Fiona Sampson. I would like to hear her version of events as well. Members of the board are behaving as a single unit. Individuals are hiding behind some kind of vacuous collective responsibility. No one stood against the tide and objected to what has happened.

    I would like to know whether returning to the status quo ante would be helpful or not. The new board has to start somewhere. At the moment it seems an impossible job and I would be surprised should anyone really want to take on being a Trustee right now. However, the Society does need good governance in the most difficult of circumstances.

    On this thread I am asking questions and exploring possibilities. I have conducted enquiries into these kind of conflict situations in smaller charity groups. It needs a firm but forensic mind to cut through the PR and the verbiage – who said what, when did they say it, why did they say it and was it lawful and competent or not?

    Only then we can make recommendations for the future – if, indeed, we have one.

  8. July 30, 2011 8:41 pm

    Sour, bitter, unhelful. We’re looking for solutions and possibilities, not this.

  9. July 30, 2011 12:43 pm

    If I may, I have some proposals that may help the poetry society for the future.
    1) Ask some well-known poets – Carol Ann Duffy, George Szirtes, Jo Shapcott, Judith Palmer, perhaps – to approach the high-powered lawyers who charged so much, to donate, say, £25,000. to the Poetry Society for good will. They can afford it, and could certainly use some good will these days.
    2) Ask Judith Palmer if she’s sure she still wants to work at her old job. She did very well helping to raise funds there, but the ambience may not be one she finds most compatible – too many fiefdoms (the magazine, the board, the president, the vice-presidents, the members!) – as a Director, when there are many other situations where she might have more control and, indeed, earn more. The job at the Poetry Society might then be split in two – a fundraiser and someone good at getting along with the various personalities involved, seeing to it that they are all functioning happily together. Perhaps she subconsciously really wanted to resign, while on the surface she felt called upon to assert herself in the face of a quasi-insurrection. Something to think about.
    3) As I believe Anne-Marie Fyfe suggested, have a quiet meeting among all the parties to the dispute with a mediator, to work out where to go on from there, and then present their agreements to an AGM for approval or its opposite. Is there any point in having another quarrelsome meeting without a real agenda?
    The important thing is for us to think about the future, not the past.
    Leah Fritz

  10. leander permalink
    July 30, 2011 9:42 am

    Admirably & succinctly put, Angela

  11. July 30, 2011 12:07 am

    “This is not a “poetry-related” matter. The issue would be the same were it in relation to the Guild of Master Builders, the Association of Boring Accountants, or Chocolate Marshmallow Society.”

    Disagree. The issue, as I understand it, is precisely poetry related. Have watched the same deal go down too many times among poets to think otherwise. Used to be quarrels were over ideas. Now the squabbles involve prerogitive and personality. That is a diminuation, n’est pas? Circumstances vary, but only slightly. Driving dynamic always the same. What tickles me in these cases involving poetry orgs is that the Trustees or Board of Directors get forced into taking a side. Invariably they choose the wrong side, end up circling the wagons: an American metaphor for assuming the defensive posture.

    Bon chance. I guess after the Walcott/Oxford affair I should have gotten you Brit poets are no better than the American scene, which is rotten enough. Note to self. Maintain present course. Keep clear of poetry organizations.

    Terreson

    • July 30, 2011 11:11 am

      Terreson. They ignored employment law. They used lawyers to try to cover up what they’d done. I have worked in non-poetry organisations where similar things have happened. Corruption is endemic in ALL parts of society, which is why we have laws.

  12. July 29, 2011 10:22 pm

    Hi guys, just a comment at the top here so it can sit like oil on the troubled waters… We don’t really need to argue, you know! There is a lot of understandable concern in the light of the Director’s statement, which goes some way towards a description of what happened inside the Poetry Society to lead to these resignations, and people are processing it. Of course, there is a gaping hole in the publicly known account of how the thing began, which is the Editor’s point of view. THAT, I believe, and not an “attack,” is why it might be good to hear something from her now.

    It’s worth noting, also, that the Director is also under “attack:” depictions of her in the press this week (while the Editor maintains her dignity both by herself and also at the hands of journalists) have ranged from inept to vaguely unflattering to adolescently ad hominem (she’s hardly “charismatic”, since she “wears a beret,’ and “knits”).

    Leah, I accept that “don’t say anything” may be the legal advice Harbottle and Lewis may have given the Editor; there is no actual legal reason she can’t speak right now, as there is no legal suit underway. It would be nice to think that nothing she could say in her defence would prove to have been a mistake were a suit to materialise. After all, the people who have caused the current difficulties, and who should bear responsibility for them, are the trustees.

    But – getting back to the issue of “how the thing began,” it’s the effects we’re concerned about now, not the cause. The current situation is NOT *about* “poetry politics.” It’s about the fact that the trustees acted so rashly and irresponsibly – in fact, incompetently – that they created a situation where the threat of a lawsuit exists, where expensive lawyers and PR firms have been called in to protect them, where six people have felt they had to resign, AND where the major funder has withheld their grant! Even in a much larger organisation these things would constitute a big deal.

    To that extent, it doesn’t really matter what the Editor thinks, because these issues are documented and incontrovertible, and are about ordinary empirical principles of governance and legislation.

    All the speculation is by the bye. The principal issue right now is a board of trustees who are shown to have little knowledge of or adherence to good management practice, and who are acting to protect themselves, not the Poetry Society. The focus should be on getting the Poetry Society off its sickbed.

    This is not a “poetry-related” matter. The issue would be the same were it in relation to the Guild of Master Builders, the Association of Boring Accountants, or Chocolate Marshmallow Society.

    Judith Chernaik has put it beautifully in a letter to the Editors of the Guardian:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/29/betrayal-at-the-poetry-society?INTCMP=SRCH

    • July 29, 2011 11:10 pm

      Dear Ms. Baroque,,
      Yes, we all understand that the trustees made an error in judgment and then, perhaps, confounded it. It’s still part of the blame culture to go on rubbing that in. The question is, what to do now?
      We have several people hurting. One is Fiona Sampson, a good and conscientious editor, who evidently wanted to change her working conditions. Everyone works from home now in jobs like that – all it takes is a computer and perhaps once a week to consult in person. She is a poet as well as an editor, and she teaches, etc.People have said that she wanted to make her job ‘permanent.’ I don’t understand what that means here, but perhaps it’s a way of getting some job security. In the event, she is hurt, and evidently has not been told, if it’s indeed true, that the former director has not filed suit and doesn’t intend to. Perhaps Judith Palmer should get in touch with her and let her know that personally, or ask her lawyer to do that.
      I can tell you that Dr.Sampson is suffering. And needlessly. And so are we all. So I think perhaps Judith Palmer should either take back her resignation and ask for her job back directly, without needing a petition and all the noise surrounding it, or stay resigned. This is a three-ring circus and has no dignity and I’m ashamed of us all, deeply so. We’re supposed to be the ‘unacknowledged legislators’! How much like the real thing we are.
      Leah Fritz

      • July 30, 2011 11:37 am

        Hi Leah,

        I agree this is a painful situation, and it would be wonderful for it to be resolved without further pain. The Board were asked repeatedly at the EGM if they would reinstate the Director, and would only say they are “discussing it” with her. She has said she would go back if reinstated – so, whatever these discussions are, they have clearly not yet manifested in an invitation to return to her old job. The petition is an attempt to put pressure on the Board to offer her her job back, so the PoSoc can move forward. It would be great if you could sign the petition – it could help to speed up a resolution of events.

        Replying to your points:

        As for “blame culture” – the board broke employment law, lied to members, and inappropriately spent 20% of the Society’s cash reserves. The matter is not yet resolved. It is not “blame,” in some pejorative sense, to say so. Indeed, we are in an interim period now and all most people want is a new board of trustees so the Society can start moving forward again.

        The permanent contract issue is very easy to understand. It is a point of EU employment law, whereby a fixed-term staff member after four years of employment becomes automatically permanent. The Poetry Society renewed Fiona’s three-year contract to maintain the status quo during its centenary, and unwittingly (though they had an HR advice firm on retainer) put Fiona into this category. The membership was not informed that where they had agreed a three-year rolling editorship, this had substantially and materially changed.

        As for working from home, I don’t know what exactly was requested. But speaking personally I have worked as an editor in organisations with a wider remit than just the publications I edited, and certainly my managers would have felt it was more beneficial for the organisation for me to be in the office, where I could interact with colleagues, go to meetings, etc. And the Poetry Society is such a small organisation! It certainly doesn’t sound unreasonable for the Director to want the editor in the office, working in a collegiate way with colleagues. This is my supposition, of course, based not on specific knowledge but on what I know of normal organisational working practice.

        This really isn’t an attack on Fiona, though she has clearly experienced, and portrayed, it as such from the start. It was the Board that did wrong. The issue of whether most members would have approved the specifics of the original request is academic, in light of the enormity of what subsequently happened.

        It’s also important to remember that, while Fiona feels under “attack,” she is still in work; two people are without any livelihood at all. Even aside from the Director, a very good finance manager was left with no honourable alternative but to resign, given the financial mismanagement that was going on. He is now entering his final two weeks of work, whereupon he will be unemployed. With respect, this to me seems more serious than whether he or anyone else was allowed to work from home or not.

    • Angela France permalink
      July 30, 2011 9:26 am

      Rus:
      What you (and Terreson) need to accept is that UK employment culture, law, and codes of practice are very different from what you know in the US. Judith’s position was made untenable; the board put the funding at risk by changing conditions of the detailed plan accepted by the arts council (and forbade her from discussing it thus in effect ordering her to be dishonest): the board made it impossible for her to fulfill her responsibilities with regard to th staff’s employment rights and conditions; the board breached emloyment law and their own rules of governance, the board spent money from reserves which they are meant to protect and grow which they had no need to spend and for advice which they could have got free. All these things can be found from the various statements available on this site. Had she stayed, the arts council would have eventually discovered the change of conditions and could have withdrawn the funding – and, as director, the blame for that would have landed at Judith’s door. Had she stayed, as director, she would have been seen to be going along with the board’s bullying of staff and flouting of their employment conditions All of these things were accompanied by bullying and refusals to consult or discuss. Walking away in these circumstances is not quitting or incompetence; it is constructive dismissal and the only option in a terrible situation, imo, if one has any integrity and respect for oneself and for the staff one is responsible for.

    • anne permalink
      July 30, 2011 10:52 am

      Well put, Angela.

      Rus, in Britain, employers are not permitted to treat their staff like this. Think about it: this was the chief executive, responsible for the entire staffing and budget of the organisation, and answerable directly to the Board. The magazine is produced with the assistance of staff who have other responsibilities, and it is funded by the organisation. With the magazine split off like this, without consultation or planning, without thought for how it would affect major grant funding, with decisions being made about staff deployment and budget without the chief executive’s involvement or even knowledge, she is unable to do her job. She is responsible for things over which she has no control.

      It’s not in the slightest like having a trophy removed from your office. If it had been done with proper planning, it would have been more like having your office partitioned, with the bit you’re left with being windowless. The way it was actually done was more like having your office door broken down as well so that people could wander in and out at will and mess with your work. And, if you read her statement, you will see that she did try to work with it, but the conduct of the Trustees made it unworkable.

  13. leander permalink
    July 29, 2011 8:45 pm

    Dear Leah, “a lot of unwashed underwear” is just another way of referring to dirty washing being shown in public, a standard English clause signifying things you’d rather keep secret, and not really a reference to knickers, whether in an English legal system or any other.

    A legal requirement for secrecy indicates either information subject to the Official Secrets Act, or something embarrassing that someone doesn’t wish to be in the public domain. Guess which sector this one is in!

  14. Liz Brown permalink
    July 29, 2011 8:24 pm

    Fiona Sampson’s silence at the moment may be puzzling given her emails encouraging ‘all right -thinking’ members to support the Board prior to the egm. However, since she is in Wales teaching a poetry course with Board-member Alan Jenkins, it is understandable.

    But she is not the only one keeping a low profile. What of those influential poets and editors who were encouraging changes with Poetry Review, and who were presumably among those circulating the petition in support of its editor in advance of the egm? Isn’t it a good time for them to step forward and present their case (not an illogical one at first sight)? Why not be open about it? Surely there are very good reasons for their stance.

    Who exactly are they anyway, does any one know? Or have they now changed their minds and joined the long-list of poets calling for Palmer’s reinstatement? I am curious to know what list they are on, long or short.

    Liz

  15. leander permalink
    July 29, 2011 5:39 pm

    There must be a lot of unwashed underwear to hide if she is legally obliged to keep quiet!

    • July 29, 2011 6:40 pm

      I didn’t grow up with this legal system. I’m from another country. But I’ve been here long enough to know that when there is a court case possibly pending, people who may be involved are limited in what they can say. It may be that what people are saying about Dr. Sampson, if untrue, might be actionable, too. I don’t know. But I think it would help matters if people made an effort to understand each other. Surely a conflict like this is based on many misunderstandings and the confusion grows with the extension of the blame game. If Dr. Sampson said she is not legally able to discuss what’s going on, then the attacks should stop unless and until she is able to defend herself. That would happen immediately if Judith Palmer ended her legal action, I believe. It really doesn’t help matters, ‘leander’, for you to speculate about people’s underwear.
      With all good wishes,
      Leah

      • July 29, 2011 7:15 pm

        There is no legal action. Judith Palmer clearly states she is not taking legal action in her statement. Therefore no need for her to end the legal action she is not taking.

        If Fiona Sampson has an obligation not to discuss what’s going on it’s because the Board imposed confidentiality on employees. This can be done legally. She was legally entitled to ask to change her terms and conditions of employment.

        The concerns here are that the request was not only mishandled but mishandled in a way that led to a breach in employment law and a failure by the Board to follow the Poetry Society’s own procedures. Those breaches are unacceptable.

        There should be no obligation on any employee to discuss changes in their
        employment terms and conditions with members.

        However, there is an obligation on the Board to inform members of critical changes (such as changing the editorship from a temporary post to a permanent) to “Poetry Review”. The Board failed to do this and is now being asked to justify to Poetry Society members the benefits to the Poetry Society of these changes.

      • July 29, 2011 9:06 pm

        As far as I’m aware, Judith Palmer has still not initiated legal action, so that can’t be relevant to any difficulty anyone has in discussing anything.

  16. July 29, 2011 3:53 pm

    Thank you, Judith, for your account of what has happened since April. You say all your allegations can be supported by emails and so on. That being so the Board acted wholly improperly even if, technically, it was within the law. Fiona Sampson was perfectly entitled to make her request. However, it should have been dealt with properly and with proper consultation.

    What concerns me now is how the Society elects a new Board at the AGM scheduled for the week beginning 12 September. Would anyone want to volunteer to get involved in this mess? What is going on under the surface? What other agendas are being played out? What is the real power struggle going on here?

    As someone who lives in Scotland and, therefore, as someone who is ignored by the London-centric luvvies at the centre of this stushie, I wonder whether the new Board will contain members from across the UK? The failure of the Society to be wholly inclusive contradicts the Constitution which itself has a UK-wide remit.

    Sorting this out is going to take time and a great deal of energy. Who wants to sip from such a poisoned chalice, I wonder?

  17. July 29, 2011 3:22 pm

    What a “mess” overall. We are finding it difficult to move from “Mess” to a clear and commonly understood “Problem Situation” description of clarity before we can move on.

    For example, one statement within Judith Palmer’s long and informative statement refers to an apology from Peter Carpenter, while Chair of the Trustees, who explained “that poets were putting pressure on him”. So, who were these poets (how many made up the plural use of the term ‘poets’?). Are these poets all members of the Society or not? Are they willing to let us all know their perspectives, positions, stances, alignments they adopted when putting pressure on Peter Carpenter? In what kind of situations did they “exert” such pressure? Was anything of their position (s) ever put in writing?

    There are other examples of circumstances that Judith Palmer and Paul Ranford have drawn to our attention in their statements which point to the need for perspectives, facts and analysis. Here I have used the example Judith presented in her statement, as merely an illustration of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know.

    In a couple of longish emails I sent direct to Kate Clanchy in the two or three weeks leading up to the EGM, I described my own turbulent involvement in somewhat parallel circumstances a few years back and tried to suggest that aspects of what might be called ‘political analysis’ approaches might be more useful that literary, organisational or factional ones, or merely ‘inter-personal’ ones.

    In a more recent email to Kate I made the observation that this whole kerfuffle/shenanigan/mess unfolded into open controversy between the Spring 2011 edition of Poetry Review with the cover title “…and spirituality?” and the latest, Summer 2011 edition of Poetry Review with the cover title “The New Political Poetry”

    So, what is the integral spiritual, ethical environment of the Board of Trustees?
    Of the Poetry Society? What is the political? even with a small !p!

    I use the word ‘integral’ here, not in the sense that Buckminster Fuller and other systems
    thinkers used it, but more in the sense as developed by Ken Wilber in his Institute of Integral Studies, and in his book Integral Spirituality, and earlier work.

    In terms of the arguments about going forward with a new Board as soon as possible,
    and with some urgency (as George Szirtes and others argue) I am in agreement,
    but would add the cautions that any new Board needs to find out where the hidden agendas (if that is what they are) lay (or still lie) and who they lie with, and why.

    The principle of restarting with a clean slate, possibly putting the recent past conflicts into a “forgetting” (if not forgiveness) box could also unintentionally act as a seedbed for any such hidden conflicts to resurface.

    Whatever background Trustees come from in the future, it could be made clear to each of them, that they should act AS IF the fundamental principles and objectives of the Society were their own, in all matters to do with the Society and its broad reach in the wider community. Of course that depends on whether or not the Society has, or can retune its Constitution and Articles to embody what these clear principles are.

    Without this kind of “tightening” if we can call it that, organisations and their governance
    are subject to what is almost whim and desire of individuals (or small cabals as one or two website comments have suggested). One kind of way this cabalistic energy expresses itself can be slightly caricatured as, ‘Well, there you have my viewpoint based on the principles I stated today at the outset. But, if these principles don’t suit you, or don’t sit well with you, I can bring you another set tomorrow, which you may find a more acceptable form of words. Of course, I’d still want the outcome to be mine. We’d just have to sing the objectives in a different key.’

    Values, ethics and principled actions expected should all be made clear in the future.

  18. July 29, 2011 11:54 am

    Has anyone asked Dr.Sampson for her account? I understand that she is still gagged because of the threat of judicial action. If this is so, perhaps Judith Palmer should withdraw from that action so that the whole situation can be worked out in a less hostile atmosphere.

    • Eva Salzman permalink
      July 29, 2011 12:29 pm

      I don’t know where you’ve gotten your information but it contradicts all statements to date.

      At an EGM or AGM it’s appropriate and expected that members request and receive an account from the Board as to Poetry Society expenditure and practice.

      All the other recent individual statements have been voluntary. My own reply to others calling for an account from Fiona Sampson is that now, more than ever, following these other statements, she’d probably be keen to provide one herself, and contrary to what you say there appears to be no reason that can’t happened. .

      • July 29, 2011 1:11 pm

        I don’t know where you got your information from, Eva, but I got mine from the horse’s mouth.
        Love, Leah

    • Eva Salzman permalink
      July 29, 2011 1:33 pm

      I don’t understand what you’re saying nor why you’re passing on mysterious remarks from the mysterious horse but this contribution seems provocative. This forum and requisition has scrupulously distanced itself from hearsay and rumour and that seems to be your contribution now. This is not just my information but that which is openly available to all.

      • July 29, 2011 5:01 pm

        I’m sorry. I should have said that Fiona Sampson told me that she still is not permitted to say more than that she is not allowed to say anything for legal reasons. She said that I may quote her on that. So I think it must be true.
        Love, Leah

    • Lydia Macpherson permalink
      July 29, 2011 6:11 pm

      Is this the same ‘threat of judicial action’ that the Board threw away £24,000 of the Poetry Society’s money to cover their backs with? Or was Dr Sampson at a different party?

      • July 29, 2011 6:24 pm

        Dear Lydia,
        Why don’t you ask her?
        All good wishes,
        Leah

  19. July 28, 2011 9:20 pm

    Why on earth were the trustees so feeble as to allow the editor to blackmail them with the threat of leaving – particulary since this particular editorship is far from being widely respected.

    • July 28, 2011 10:07 pm

      I’ve learned a lot since I started this website on the 5th July – before that all I knew about the Poetry Society was what I saw on the site and what I received regularly through the mail as a Member. Nobody has suggested to me until now that the Editor was blackmailing the Board or that ‘this particular editorship is far from being widely respected’. For all I know both allegations may be true, but I’ve seen no evidence in support of either. Many people have said that the Editor had every right to negotiate the terms and conditions of her job, but I think it’s important to separate this from the way in which the Board responded to her request. There’s nothing wrong with the request (which I have not seen), but we have all seen evidence that the Board dealt with it in a disastrous way.

      That’s why it’s important to say that the EGM was not about what the Editor wanted to do with her job: it was about how the Board intervened to undermine and supplant the position, responsibilities and work of the Director. I don’t think any of the discussions between the Editor and the Board have been made public, and without knowing what occurred, the conclusion you have reached is not sound.

      I have never met either the Editor or the Director and I’m not taking sides. But allegations such as this one of blackmail are very serious, even if intended figuratively. It is not fair to make them if they are a matter of opinion unsupported by evidence.

  20. Bacchanalia permalink
    July 28, 2011 6:13 pm

    I’m a poetry fan, not a poet, and I followed a link from the Guardian to get here.

    I am horrified by what I have read and, having been a member of 2 other organisations that suffered a take over attempt by a cabal, I know exactly how distressing and frustrating it can be. (perhaps it’s an inevitable feature of this sort of membership group?).. May the power be with you – I shall follow with interest

    “Bacchanalia”

  21. July 28, 2011 3:46 am

    Fiona has made some statements in this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/28/poetry-society-mysterious-divisions

    Here is an excerpt:

    “I have not picked a fight with Judith Palmer,” she [Fiona Sampson] said, “and I’m not interested in picking a fight with Judith Palmer.”

    Sampson also rejects recent suggestions that she wanted to focus more on high-profile poets, citing 13 years working in arts education and statistics which show that 20% of the poets published in Poetry Review have yet to publish a book – a proportion she described as “astonishingly high”.

    “My express policy is to honour the slush pile,” she said, “because I always came out of the slush pile myself.”

    But Sampson declined to explain whether the dispute centres on the allocation of the recent ACE funding, as alleged in one report, saying that the spate of resignations is something that she has “no interest in, and no power over”.

    “It has never been the case that the editor has had any role in steering the society as a whole,” she said, “and I haven’t been.”

  22. Terreson permalink
    July 28, 2011 12:09 am

    Writing from America and not a familiar with the Poetry Society scene: I could call this a stinky story. Over the last decade I’ve watched two prestigious American poetry organizations, The Academy of American Poets & The Poetry Foundation, get embroiled in similarly nasty business. Circumstance(s) enough to make me suspect a systemic problem in all poetry organizations. Disheartening also as I like to think poets, and their organizations, are better than politicians, and theirs. Or is the Poetry Society and its Review a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation? Same smell, as we say down here in the South.

  23. Terreson permalink
    July 27, 2011 11:56 pm

    Writing from America and not a familar to the Poetry Society scene: this is what you might call a stinky story. Over the last decade I’ve watched two prestigious American poetry organizations get embroiled in such smelly business. The Academy of American Poets & The Poetry Foundation. It is enough to make one wonder if a certain set of organizational problems are not, in origin, systemic. Rather disheartening, in all. I kind of like to think poets, and their organizations, are better than politicians, and theirs. But for all I know the Poetry Society is a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation.

  24. Anucha Tawtim permalink
    July 27, 2011 11:19 pm

    I find it quite worrying that despite Judith Palmer’s insistence that this issue is not related to Fiona Sampson that certain people are trying to still make this a core issue. The editor of Poetry Review should not be petitioned for a statement because, to be frank, she is perfectly within her rights to petition the board regarding her own working arrangements, including changing her contract to a permanent position. Her silence does not in my mind indicate any kind of guilt but rather an ability to retain her dignity while everybody else is publicly pointing the finger. I think that this is to be commended rather than to be insulted.

    I also think that some of you would quite like her job and are maybe not commenting entirely objectively! :-)

    • July 28, 2011 4:59 pm

      She is of course within her rights to request changes to her working arrangements, but it was the underhand way in which these changes were carried out which is a concern to a lot of the people involved, as outlined in Judith Palmer’s statement. Secret meetings and overridden procedures are signs of bad blood within an organisation; that her request was met after funding was secured and that this was kept from the Arts Council, which had previously rejected her request and whose funding was conditional on there being no major changes to the structure or management of the organisation suggests that this is not above board (forgive the pun). This, among other things, has led to the suspension of funding. It’s a bit churlish, given the scale of resignations and the evidence of mismanagement, to suggest that anyone who complains is simply jealous of the Editor’s position.

      • Nicholas Liu permalink
        July 28, 2011 6:46 pm

        Nevertheless, I think it is not Sampson’s fault to answer. As you say, “it was the underhand way in which these changes were carried out which is a concern to a lot of the people involved”. Well, the appropriateness of her end of that seems to me a matter for the director and board–the editor being, after all, a mere employee–to examine. She is not, nor should be, directly accountable to the membership.

    • Desmond Swords permalink
      July 28, 2011 10:49 pm

      Anucha Tawtim you online avatar for, it is logical to assume from the evidence at the link, someone unwilling to appear as yourself because …why is that, Whatsername, please?

      Why do you come here to defend Fiona, anonymously, and why are you at pains to conceal your real identity from us, please AC? Are you a ‘freind’ of hers, a trustee colleague who attended those confidential meetings no-one wants to talk about? Did you contribute to the plan for the PR editorship to become permanent, as smoothly executed as possible, with a minimum of fuss and zero ‘publicity’ (let’s say), Anonymous Chara?

      It reminds one of the earliest days during the incredibly exciting time of Padelgate, when allies of RP’s attempted to seize and steer the public conversation away from ‘us’ uninvolved and concerned bystanders asking or answering questions about what Ruth’s role may have been in the hoo-ha, and firmly concentrate it on being about what Walcott may or may not have been getting up to twenty years ago with adult women.

      The day after Walcott pulled out of the race, after multiple copies of a very well prepared dossier had been sent, anonymously, to Oxford academics by, I thought, Padel supporters, Mary Fitzgerald wrote a Guardian piece that concentrated on the moral suitability of this Nobel laureate to be talking about poetry around some of the world’s brightest and best educated young adult women.

      At this point Padel was looking fairly strong in the race, as the field had been cleared of her sole serious rival; and a few anonymously ‘concerned’ usernames writing very persuasive copy, appeared in the comment box of Fitzgerald’s article, attempting to steer the focus and tone of the debate to one that, on the surface, seemed but merely the passionate concern of jolly nice (anonymous) bores, whose sole concern was the physical and moral safety of young women learning literature at Oxo. Underneath, however, it was actually the machinations of a very crafty set of committed and ambitious people desperately attempting to sway the public discussion in favour of Padel, for the sole purpose of her winning a role of Oxford’s ollamh.

      Their specific performance duty role was to deflect any attention away from settling on the questioning of Padel’s involvement, and into a faux PC discussion about ‘concern’ for the sisters and outrage at Walcott being a shagger, even though Padel had not been averse to pouting in leather pant cougar photos to publicise her poems during her physical heyday when, decades earlier, she and and the food hack who first stuck the boot in on Derek in his Independant column, John Walsh, were enjoying a well publicised fling.

      But they failed to avert the gaze of a few key commentators who steered the debate into the very area they found most undesirable to their cause, and far from influencing the outcome and ‘winning’ by a domination of that inchoate discussion, a die was cast, direction set, and the rest is dán, or, ‘poetry’, as the druidic dictionary defines it, and also ‘history/fate and destiny as a unitary concept’ (“a person can’t drown whose dán, whose ‘poetry’ it is to be hung”, is a very famous bardic quote I assume you’ll be familiar with, AC?.

      Padel tried to act a dignified silence, until she started behaving as though there was some veracity to the rumours that her involvement in the subterfuge was more than she was letting on, and far from her silence being the kind a dignified uninvolved saint exudes, it was obvious by her garbled pre- and post-resignation ramblings, the poor dear’s reality had been unexpectedly pulled from under her by the gods of poetry. The unflappably calm, assured, expectant, confident and knowledgable mien of a, hitherto, life-long winnner, underwent an about turn and sudden shift as her mask slipped when reality upended whatever she’d so desperately wanted fixed.

      That’s the essence of poetry, or dán, as the forgotten bards knew it, Aanchu my dearest deepest darling teacher of ‘em who tawt nowt but lurrrve, innit? Ausalcrog, AC?

      Best wishes.

    • July 29, 2011 9:32 pm

      Anucha, I think you’re quite right that the personalities are a little too far to the fore. In a way it’s inevitable, and right now people are reacting to the statement they’ve just read… but ultimately, whatever drove the issue, the issue remains what it is: mismanagement on the part of the trustees. My comment below about a possible statement was more about where the substance of that statement would best lie – that is, that the trustees sshould have been looking at the proposal in this light – and to reiterate that this issue is about the actions of the trustees, and the good of the Poetry Society. Ordinary procedures were not followed, which are in place precisely to protect against damaging episodes just like this one.

      Terreson, these things happen in ALL kinds of organisations. Arts organisations, just like construction companies, schools, shops or government offices, have all kinds of people working in them (and on their boards). Employment law is employment law no matter what your profession.

  25. July 27, 2011 11:18 pm

    As an ordinary member I’m amazed and disgusted at the shenanigans reported by Judith Palmer, and indebted to her for shining her headlights on the car crash that has been called PoetryGate.
    I, and probably the majority of members have been in the dark for long enough and, although unable to attend last week’s EGM, I believe that I/we deserve to be kept informed in a sensible and civilised manner of the machinations of this debacle.
    Leaning on people in order to suppress this kind of information is despicable.
    I hope that there will be statements from each one of the parties involved and also from the staff who must be feeling dreadfully abused.
    Someone please sort this out, get the society back on the road, and in a proper manner!

  26. July 27, 2011 6:31 pm

    In many ways none of Judith Palmer’s disclosures are a shock, but the crux if the matter is the ultimate fate of Fiona Sampson who has clearly set out to accomplish a coup and there surely must be paragraphs in her job description which give the Poetry Society Board and Trustees some rather rather obvious powers. It is astonishing that none of this was disclosed prior to the EGM as the Board would have no grounds to remain in place had these matters been brought to the members’ attention.

    A new EGM should be petitioned immediately so that a new Board can take this matter in hand.

    It would be interesting to know which poets support Ms Sampson in her failed coup, an attempt to reallign the shift from accessible and potentially popular poetry back to an elitist salon.

    How many people realise that her publisher, Michael Schmidt, attempted to become a member of the new Board, which was thankfully regarded as inappropriate.

  27. July 27, 2011 4:16 pm

    I have reblogged this in full at Silkworms Ink with a link to the petition – I hope you do not mind me using the text from Palmer’s statement. Let me know if this is a problem and I’ll take it down.

    All the best,

    Phil Brown

    • Martin - admin permalink*
      July 27, 2011 5:03 pm

      Brilliant – thanks, Phil

  28. Jonathan Briggs permalink
    July 27, 2011 3:41 pm

    As I said before, I feel that the trustees by their actions have made themselves personally liable for any and all costs incurred in this sorry business. The first business of the new board should be to invoice all the trustees in place during the breakdown for their share of those costs. There can be no sentiment, no saying “Well, he’s a good chap, he didn’t really want to do it” – The board agreed to stand or fall together, so they must fall.

    It would seem that a whole raft of articles of association, employment laws have been ignored, and that there has been a complete failure by the board to carry out due dilligence and to demonstrate any semblence of a duty of care towards the society and its employees, and as a result cannot claim any kind of immunity from sanction.

    • Eva Salzman permalink
      July 27, 2011 3:50 pm

      After current issues of governance are settled and the house put in order – hopefully with Judith Palmer and Ranford too, in my view, reinstated – surely this must be addressed.

    • July 28, 2011 6:36 pm

      Are you suggesting that the new board should sue members of the old board? Wouldn’t this mean hiring expensive lawyers to recover costs paid to other expensive lawyers? I’d have thought the PoSoc needed that like a hole in the head, just at the moment. The trustees have fairly obviously made some spectacularly unwise decisions. IANAL, but I don’t think they can be sued for finding themselves in a hole and failing to stop digging.

  29. katefoxwriter permalink
    July 27, 2011 2:09 pm

    Whilst it would be enormously interesting to read a statement from Fiona Sampson, and it has been interesting (and saddening) to read Juliet Palmer’s account of what seems to be nothing less than the bullying that she received from the board, it seems that asking an employee of the Poetry Society to issue a statement regarding a request that they made about their employment terms and conditions is unreasonable. The only thing that seems as if it might make much inroads in the reputational damage the Poetry Society is still suffering is a big “Mea Culpa” from the resigning board, reassurance that they’re not going to keep on spending huge sums on legal and PR fees and are going to communicate openly and honestly with all P.S staff, help the process of arbitration and steering the ship back on course in the period before a new board is appointed. (And an apology for their errors of judgment and appalling treatment of P.S staff, particularly Juliet). I follow one of the (usually voluble online) board members on Twitter/Facebook and it has been all I can do not to Tweet/Facebook publicly asking him whether he will be commenting. This comment is a sublimation activity in fact.

    • Desmond Swords permalink
      July 28, 2011 4:32 pm

      Judith, not Juliet, is the ex-director’s name, Cally.

      Under the circumstances, I don’t think it unreasonable that this employee of the Poetry Society issue a statement regarding the requests she made to create a job for life for herself as editor of “one of the world’s leading contemporary poetry magazines” (as it bills itself).

      As I understand it, the editorial tenure of Poetry Review used to be limited to three years due to the magazine going stale when it became the private fiefdom of one editor and majority on a board going all out to create the conditions whereby they and their pals dominate in perpituity. And though it was Sampson who, twice, requested the board create this unprecedented condition in her term of contract/tenure, members were informed at the EGM that this confidentially executed strategy was solely so the PS would become compliant with EU employment law, rather than making Fiona Queen in perpituity of Poetry Review.

      Sampson sent an email just before the meeting, vehemently requesting all ‘right-thinking’ members have confidence in a board of trustees who unanimously lost it at the EGM because of their ‘creative’ and implausible spin on events, presented, sotto voce, to an increasingly incredulous bunch of middle-aged hippies and ‘right-thinking’ PS members exercising their right to be informed by the board of what was being done in their name, for the first time since my pensioner parents were still loved-up newly-marrieds with an expanding brood of toddlers and Bob Cobbing’s Concrete Poetry was monopolizing the pages of PR.

      Analysing Palmer’s account of what happened, coupled with Sampson’s reaction, and Bamford’s blather at the EGM, leaves this non-member in little doubt that Sampson and the board attempted to pull a stroke that, whilst perfectly legal, contravened utterly the poetic spirit and general consensus among the membership, that the editorship of their flagship rag should definitley not be a job for life, but for a short phase only of any one incumbent’s career. This is because, as I understand it, poetry editors who do get a job for life, usually fall into empire building and end up devoting their energies to a consolidation of personal power: our inner Don Corleone fantasy satiated as we dole out favours on the nod and wink, deniable tete-a-tetes with colleagues-in-bore who ‘get’ it – the silent contract of you saying nice things about my duff, and me publishing yours. ‘There may be easier jobs’ – than editing Poetry Review, but ‘few offer such peculiarly sweet rewards’, Fiona writes.

      “I am, for example, somewhat uncomfortable with cults and the status of effective unreadability they confer on their objects. I mistrust homogeneity. I’ve an appetite for the collisions, rather than collusions.. In a Britain where even the arts establishment can look shifty when it comes to poetry, where access to contemporary poets in libraries and on syllabuses is increasingly rationed, Poetry Review has a robustly colourful role to play in presenting the best of poetry today, in cajoling poets into particular forms of writing, and in nursing contemporary poetry-critical discourse.”

  30. July 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    Firstly, I like to emphasise that I’m just an ordinary member. I have no affiliation to anyone involved in this. I know none of these people on a personal level. I’m basing my opinions on what I’ve read.

    I’m concerned that the discussion is focusing on Poetry Review too much. In her above account, Judith clearly says that ‘To deflect attention from their own evident bad practice, it seems the Board have tried to throw people off the stench with false allegations about myself and Fiona Sampson’.

    As we know, Fiona Sampson has kept a low profile – possibly with good reason given how easily words can be twisted. Given the lack of hard facts, surely we have to entertain the possibility that Sampson wanted a new working arrangement because she thought that it would be better for everyone. So much can be done on the internet now – maybe felt that she could dedicate herself to her role more effectively if she didn’t have to commute into the centre of London. We can’t know, of course, until this is clarified. Until then, I think we should be careful about laying blame in this direction. Let’s not demonise the wrong people based on hypotheses and inference.

    The real issue is that all of this should have been handled professionally by the Board, and through the proper channels. The Board’s decision to ignore protocol has caused this mess.

    It strikes me that each bad decision has had a knock-on effect, leading to more and more bad decisions – and that this has ultimately resulted in the vote of no confidence in the Board. As such, the Trustees need to actively take account for their actions, individually and collectively. That damage limitation needs to start now – not in September.

    • Eva Salzman permalink
      July 27, 2011 1:10 pm

      At this point, surely Fiona Sampson would WANT to issue a statement, with all the information now in the public arena. Likewise one wishes for further statements, and to understand how there could have been no support for the Director from anywhere within the organisation.

  31. July 27, 2011 12:43 pm

    Harbottle and lewis, it is not the first time i have heard that name in the last two weeks and last time it ended with a left hook and a custard pie

  32. Eva Salzman permalink
    July 27, 2011 12:40 pm

    More statements are certainly in order but as we continue to bounce between the two names Sampson and Palmer as the crux of the matter, as presented first by the Board and then in the media, I can’t help but wonder:

    Why or how it was that not a single Board member could or can make a statement?

    Was there nobody else to whom the Director might have gone about this matter, who knew about this?

    Are the rules such that those with honorary positions, for example, couldn’t or wouldn’t know about this, these perhaps preventing them from getting involved?

    I concur with above remarks, feeling that not only Judith Palmer but also Ranford’s reinstatement would be in the best interests of the society.

  33. July 27, 2011 10:23 am

    At the centre of all this whirlwind is the Poetry Review and its strangely silent Fiona Samson.Not all the cards have been put on the table and we need more information long before the AGM in September. What is/was the responsibility of the trustees who have jumped ship?
    And just how much of what this group has learnt has filtered out to the general Poetry Society membership? The report on yesterday’s six o’clock news,BBC Radio 4 parroted the ‘Mad Mrs Rochester in the Attic’ theme that the PR firm is giving out.
    And where did Joan Bakewell come from!

  34. Penelope Shuttle permalink
    July 27, 2011 9:44 am

    Thank you, Judith, for your statement. I am appalled at the reckless behaviour of The Board of Trustees and the Board’s continuing use of misinformation in the media in the wake of the EGM. I concur with Polly in all she says in her comment. And as a grassroots member of The Poetry Society I would like to apologise to you for the treatment you have received from the Board, and to thank you for your superb steering of The Poetry Society. I cannot easily forgive those who have lost The Society an invaluable Director. I hope that a new Board of Trustees will invite you to return to your post, and I hope you will accept reinstatement. It is clear that the Society needs you to bring order out of the current chaos.
    Penelope

    • July 27, 2011 10:57 am

      Penelope, what do you think about an open letter to the PR Editor asking her please (for the love of God!) to say something about this situation – specifically about the fundamental changes to PRs relationship to the Poetry Society, and why these seem to be so very necessary. I could draft something.
      Polly

      • July 27, 2011 11:31 am

        I’d clarify this wording – she shouldn’t be explaining why these changes are so necessary, because they aren’t – but rather, how she reasoned that they would benefit the Poetry Society.

        I’m willing to bet she thought the changes would benefit Poetry Review, not the Society. And even then, forgot to take into consideration the benefits the magazine gains from the affiliation, and indeed work done on the magazine by other staff members. But as an employee of the PS, editing the magazine OF the PS, it is the PS to which she should be called on to demonstrate the benefit of the change.

  35. maximilian hildebrand permalink
    July 27, 2011 8:44 am

    Judith – Thank you for giving such a detailed account of the events leading up to your resignation. It doesn’t present a pretty picture…and even with three grand spent on reputation mitigation will leave PoSoc with sticky egg on its face.

    It does seem to me that we are still a short distance away from the real kernel that has gestated into this farrago…i.e. why did the trustees/FS feel the need to dislocate the review from the society? Can it really be about circulation? Can it really be because FS wants to shoehorn her poetry companions into a boot of safe and consistent publicity?

    I only know FS from her poetry, and it would disappoint me intensely to discover she wished to co-opt a publication designed to create visibility and opportunity for all poets, be they heaney or hildebrand. It seems a callous and short sighted aim…

    Please, if anyone has any evidence either way, or more objectively to understand the motivations of the disenfranchisement of the review from the society, speak up now. Let’s find all the bones, bury them, leave a flower at the grave and get on
    mxm

    • July 29, 2011 11:29 pm

      Dear Maximillian,
      Read the current issue or any recent issue of Poetry Review. You will find a number of little known poets and writers. And some very good well-known ones. And some poems you don’t like at all, and some I don’t care for, either. Like any other very good poetry journal. Like Ambit or Acumen or Edinburgh Review…or…
      I agree – let’s get on.
      Peace and love,
      Leah

  36. July 27, 2011 7:53 am

    This is appalling. Thank you Judith – and for giving us a factual account that fills the gaps in the account we got at the meeting.

    I’ve been having a discussion on my own blog about what to do now (please click on my blog name above to see it) – leaving everything until the elections at the AGM seems to me to resign ourselves to chaos and the issues being hidden under a lot of distraction. Before the AGM I believe there needs to be a public call for the Editor of Poetry Review to explain her position. I don’t believe she can remain silent when the changes she has asked for and been granted have resulted in this disastrous mess.

    We also need to give serious thought to candidates for the new Board and put in place a campaign to support them.

    Polly Clark

  37. Anne Vinden permalink
    July 27, 2011 7:48 am

    What felt a naive question that I posted a while back – as to whether the Board’s sudden decision to take Poetry Review under their wing might not be about a wish to take control of who gets published in the journal (in fact they were under pressure from some poets, it appears) – now begins to seem less naive. Though nothing as savage as what actually took place would ever have dawned on me. Though Judith Palmer is being very generous indeed in not suing for constructive dismissal, and may even be willing not to sue for defamation of character, I’m sure everybody will be wanting to consult with her as to the best way to repair at least some of the harm done to her personally and professionally. Character assassination doesn’t seem too strong a description.

    But what I was wondering about even before her statement arrived on the website was whether the nettle should be grasped that some degree of extreme conflict is going to exist between some poets and any honest, dedicated Director of the Poetry Society – given the financial climate. This is not a time when public funding is going to go to anything seeming to serve the rarefied interests of a perceived minority – even if what they produce and engage with is of the highest excellence. I was seeing that Judith Palmer had probably been the unpopular voice of realism. Indeed she clearly was.

  38. Chris Allinson permalink
    July 27, 2011 7:46 am

    Will this interesting narrative signal the end of the measurement of the skidmarks of this collision? Time now to tow the wreckage to the repair shop.

    • July 27, 2011 11:04 am

      Nice metaphor. One hopes that what remains is not a write-off.

  39. Caroline Carver permalink
    July 27, 2011 7:21 am

    Judith I am devastated on reading the full story and hope there is a way, or it’s already been done, of making this statement available to the full membership. Supportive best regards CAroline

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