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Kate Clanchy on paranoid poets

July 28, 2011

Poets are easy to poke fun at. Their lives’ work may well be shorter than a cook-book, and have fewer readers. Their art-form is notoriously ill paid. And they fuss, almost by definition,  about things which seem incomprehensibly small to outsiders: scansion, line-endings, reviews, precedence. They fuss with each other too, again over goods which may seem petty: a professorship, an editorship, a review.

All this can make for a difficult atmosphere at parties: a paranoia of poets, our Poet Laureate once proposed as our collective noun. But I’ve always maintained that the paranoia was only skin-deep. I was treated very generously as a new poet, and I have always told other new poets that they will be treated generously too. In particular, I’ve always laughed at the notion of  a ‘London-based cabal’, and a sinister group ‘in control’ of prizes and publications. I’ve always pointed out, for example, that prize juries rotate, and so does the editorship of our central Journal, Poetry Review. If your work is not the taste of one judge or editor, it might be to the next’s.

I went into the work of organising a Requisition to find out what was going on at the Poetry Society in this same spirit: I thought that something very poetical and principled, something to do with an ampersand, would be found to be the problem, and that everything would be sorted well before I collected my 300 signatures.

I have been horribly disappointed: at each turn, with each anguished email and late-night strange phone-call, I have found out more and more things that seem to have come straight from the imaginings of a paranoid poet.  For example, that the Editorship of Poetry Review doesn’t rotate at all, any more. The Editor’s post was made permanent in 2008, and no one was told. Now, this may be one of those facts that seems incredibly petty to outsiders, but to poets, it’s like being told that driving licenses have only been given out through one instructor for the last 3 years, and no one thought that to know this was any of a learner-driver’s business. Poetry Review is a gate-keeper magazine. The keys can’t stay with one person.

Then I found out that the whole Poetry Society schism was also based on Poetry Review. The editor had been lobbying for years to be able to work separately from the Society, and suddenly this year she was granted her wish. In order to gratify it, the Board met confidentially, changed the Director’s job description, by-passed staff and funders and, when the Director protested, pushed her to resign and threw her out the building. When they realised they had actually broken a number of laws by doing this, they started a search for ‘something on the Director’, and hired very expensive lawyers who racked up huge bills – all without the Director having taken any legal action herself.

Why? Why on earth would a group of apparently good citizens do this to a reputable Society, established for 100 years, and a Director who had just won a record uplift in funding from ACE? How could this destruction possibly be worth while in order to win better conditions for just one employee, and  for the magazine which is just one part of the Society’s work? What was the impulse behind it?

And what could be the worst possible answer? Whispers from a London-based cabal, of course, of the sort I  have never believed in. But at the EGM which our  requisition succeeded in calling, that was the answer I got. The Acting Chair said that the relationship between the Editor and the Director, though it hadn’t been the subject of any official grievance, or caused concern to funders,  was ‘causing public comment’. I asked about the comment, and was not only told that it had not been written down, but also that it had not been ‘open’ to Poetry Society members. The Chair told me:  ‘You obviously weren’t at that party’.

No, we weren’t at that party, we scruffy, regional poets in the hall. We are, as the Guardian kindly pointed out, not party-animals but beardy, older, in sensible shoes. So easy to poke fun at. But 507 difficult, paranoid people did get together to find out what was going on. And I believe 1000 will sign the petition currently being put forward by George Szirtes, asking the Poetry Society to roll back and start again.  I also believe that it will, and that a new, better, less paranoid Society will rise from what looks more and more like ashes. But then, I’m a very optimistic person, or I’d never have tried to rally a group of poets. 

47 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 11:52 am

    Sally and Roddy – absolutely. My full support for what you say.

    And there is still an astonishing degree of cloning in the Mag. It rarely takes me by surprise. Fortunately there are other poetry magazines (and collections by poets who never appear in PR) which do have that quality.

  2. Sheila Hillier permalink
    August 2, 2011 7:36 pm

    I do support reinstatement, but am also aware that there is someone currently in post, having been appointed earlier this year. It must be uncomfortable for that individual who took the post in good faith. I agree with others that Trustees really do need to have some training in their rights and duties and the basics of employment law, access to legal services etc.

    On a slightly different note – not all London based poets are part of a cabal! Indeed if such an influential group exists it is most certainly trans-spatial. Poetry – because of the meagerness of its rewards where there is not enough money or recognition to go around-
    by nature will produce protective coteries. Those unknown poets who were apparently seeking some structural change in the Poetry Society should perhaps make their views more widely known so that there can be a proper debate. I would also recommend to any one who has not done so that they read the constitution of the Poetry Society,. There are a number of interesting objectives there, including elocution awards and support for Poetry Drama. But you may think we have had enough of the latter!

  3. August 2, 2011 8:22 am

    Rus, if Judith Palmer could have acted differently, and not lost her reputation for being open and frank with Arts Council, how? What could she have done? Changed from what she’d proposed to Arts Council and not told them? You want to take changing the editor off the table? Fair enough. But you yourself need to say what else Judith Palmer could have done, or take your accusation, often repeated by you and never backed up, that she should not have resigned. With respect.

    • August 2, 2011 2:13 pm

      Rus, I’ve decided to close discussion on Judith Palmer and Fiona Sampson. Let’s leave it here.

      If you and / or anyone else want to continue elsewhere, that’s fine.

  4. Lindy Barbour permalink
    August 1, 2011 10:52 pm

    This is an illogical, blame the victim type of argument from rusbowden. You cannot radically vary the terms and conditions of an employee without consultation and negotiation. If you do so as an employer you can be sued for constructive dismissal and it would seem that the board did in fact fear this and that this was the reasoning that took them to Harbottle and Lewis and made them so keen to find “dirt” on the outgoing director. They had behaved wrongly but it looks as though they thought to begin with that they would get away with it and then they panicked when they realised there would be consequences. Bullying is what it looks like. No other word will do.

    • August 2, 2011 2:33 pm

      I honestly don’t see how anyone can deny the trustees were incomptetent in not knowing the society’s arrangements for legal advice. I know they are amateurs but there is training available for roles like these.

    • August 2, 2011 3:25 pm

      The role of charity trustees and directors is very clearly set out by the Chaity Commission in England and I would refer you to their website

      There has been no excuse in law for the trustees to say they didn’t know what they were doing or they didn’t know how to do things better. Their powers are clearly set out by the Charity Commission, decision-making processes by trustees are clearly set out, and advice from the Charity Commission is always readily available. It is not the job of the board to micro-manage a charity – that is delegated to the Chief Executive/Director.

      Similarly, on issues relating to the employment of staff and contractual issues then ACAS is the first port of call. They have excellent advice both online and in the seminars they lead. ACAS is the government agency deliberately set up to help resolve issues while they are still manageable and before they blow up into major ones!

      Advice from both agencies is usually free. If it was ignored then the trustees may have been guilty of ‘wilful ignorance’ i.e not knowing things they were required to know.

      I hope the new trustees will take these matters on board and behave more professionally than the retiring board has done.

    • August 2, 2011 3:38 pm

      It’s all quite clear on their website, I would have thought. The Charity Commission offer briefing papers and detailed guidance papers on how charities should be run and how the trustees should behave. If there are specific issue you phone them up!

    • August 2, 2011 3:48 pm


      You think this is about disagreement. You think you’re being brave and clear-sighted. You think it’s you against the rest of the world.

      I’m sorry, but it’s not. It’s about you not knowing what you’re talking about. Your postings are brimming with errors, misconceptions and howlers. You simply don’t have the background. You don’t know the history. You don’t understand anything about UK charity governance, or the legal liabilities of trustees. You’ve completely misunderstood the point about pro bono legal work.

      This is why people are getting irritated. NOT because they want to stifle alternative points of view – believe me, this is a very diverse bunch of individuals, by no means averse to disagreement! – but because you have the wrong end of just about every stick in this particular woodpile.

      I’m sure you mean well, but your contributions are too ill-informed to be constructive, and after days and days of pretty relentless posting it would be better if you showed some good grace now and left the mending of this painful and complicated situation to those who understand the issues.

      Thank you, and goodnight.

    • August 2, 2011 3:57 pm


      You do have a very unpleasant habit of twisting words. I have noted your comments in all these threads with interest but frankly I find your contributions very unhelpful. In the UK there are government agencies that provide various kinds of help for free. The Charity Commissioners are the most significant for charities as I have already said. ACAS (the Arbitration & Conciliation Service) is another such agency.

      It is incumbent on ALL trustees/directors to know this. It is no defence in law to say they didn’t know, neither can they hide behind wilful ignorance.

      All trustees are supposed to know what they are signing up to and what their powers are. If they can’t be bothered to do this they shouldn’t be trustees. Other charities manage. Why shouldn’t the Poetry Society’s?

    • August 2, 2011 7:12 pm


      In the UK ignorance of the law is no defence. When you set up a charity and you register it with the Charity Commissioners they send you all this information. The Poetry Society, therefore, HAD this information and it is incumbent on the charity to keep up-to-date with charity law requirements year on year. They can do that either by using the Charity Commission?ACAS websites or they can subscribe to a monthly document that is available to all businesses in this country notifying you of the latest changes in the law relevant to your business. That is why wilful ignorance is no defence – the onus is always on the charity keeping itself up-to-date.

      In Scotland where I live the Scottish Charity Commission makes it clear there should be a proper induction of new trustees to make sure they know what they have joined and what their responsibilities and liabilities are. If there was no induction in London then the fault lies with the board – especially the Chair – for not doing a proper and professional job.

      As I said earlier the resources are there for any charity to tap into. You don’t spend £24,000 + VAT on legal advice when you can get that same advice from the government agencies I have referred to for free. I have enough experience of charity governance to have been through this several times in my lifetime. I know how the system works and so should anyone else who works in the charity sector.

      If the present board of trustees did not know all this they were utterly inept. If they did know this and still ignored the pro bono advice the Charity Commissioners and ACAS offer they were still inept. That advice may indeed have been to engage a solicitor. The point is they never took the freely available route in the first place. THAT is the issue I am highlighting.

      The next board of trustees must have members who are either familiar with charity law and charity regulations OR they must take in-service training (easily available) to bring themselves up to speed. If I were a trustee on the new board I would INSIST on a proper and professional approach to the work of the board and would accept nothing less than that.

  5. August 1, 2011 5:51 pm

    This is not about Fiona Sampson, gold or not. Judith Palmer put forward a grant proposal based on specific promises to Arts Council to conduct a programme of activity. I should know, I make these proposals for Arts Council money, successfully, all the time. Judith Palmer was then asked by the board to change the programme and not tell the Arts Council. She proposed at several stages to involve the Arts Council in discussions about changing the programme with their permission and involvement, which is acceptable (again, I have done this several times). The Board refused to invite the Arts Council into such a process. Judith Palmer has built her reputation on fair dealing, communication with the funder, and sticking to the spirit and as near as possible the letter of the funding bids she writes. If she had gone along with obfuscation and deceit, then she would have lost her reputation. That, precisely, is a resigning issue. It also did, and will, save the Poetry Society its funding. If Poetry Society had gone forward with a changed programme, unagreed, then Arts Council could demand its money back or wait it out and decline any future funding bids from Poetry Society. If, on the other hand, Poetry Society goes back to the terms of Judith Palmer’s funding bid (with some renegotiation agreed by all parties if necessary), Arts Council will be duty bound to release the money to them. They will, I admit, have to work hard now to deliver that funding bid with excellence, but that is perfectly possible. I support the reinstatement of Judith Palmer. I utterly endorse returning to the terms of the funding bid she wrote.

  6. Eva Salzman permalink
    August 1, 2011 12:22 pm

    Kate, your piece gets to the heart of my concerns, and these continue to grow, however heartening the petition for Judith Palmer’s reinstatement and its flood of support one might say can’t be ignored, but I”m not so sure anymore.

    Apart from the party referred to, am I right that Board members themselves referred to poets putting pressure on people? Even if it’s not productive to name and blame, yet the question is what kind of pressure and why and in what way. Is this not more evidence of the culture that produced this situation in the first place and why the Board feels it can remain, however temporarily, when surely the good of the society – ostensibly everyone’s primary concern – would have been furthered by individual resignations. The solidarity of the Board has been noted with admiration, yet this is surely at the expense of the Society.

    Okay, so now it’s pointless to beat the proverbial horse, and following general consternation at the press’s inaccurate or incomplete reporting, we come to a welcome Guardian letter from Judith C. which must be noted nevertheless is not a commissioned article further elucidating by now newsworthy matters to general readership. Surely, in journalism-speak this omission suggests a stance, as I’ve said on Silkworms which is covering so thoroughly all aspects of the story including these matters. An Indie article alone had a section for comments, until a brief Guardian piece about Muriel Spark finally did likewise. From this section Martin Alexander’ comments have been removed twice by the moderator due to…..due to….? What? For mentioning a petition? One might just be able to perceive a justification given full and even-handed reporting, but even so I doubt it. So I keep asking, as Marvin Gaye did: what’s going on?

  7. Alex permalink
    July 30, 2011 5:14 pm

    I agree with Andy. This is so obviously not about personally attacking Fiona Sampson. This is about maintaining a principle. The issue is not trivial because the decisions to a) permanentize and b) make part-time, without a reduction in salary, may commit the Society to a worse use of money (purely in terms of hours) and an arrangement inimical to the major interests and wishes of a majority of members. That ain’t trivial.

  8. segunleefrench permalink
    July 30, 2011 3:43 pm

    I’m afraid that you misunderstand dramatically the current climate of Arts funding in the UK. The Poetry Review is by no means the “one golden egg” of the Poetry Society.

    The ACE criteria are excellence, reach, engagement, diversity and innovation. Arguably, the Poetry Review only achieves excellence, and (even more arguably) innovation. Through education and outreach work, however, the Poetry Society is able to satisfy all five criteria, though I’m sure many poets may demur about the excellence of poetry produced.

    I’m afraid that you need to wake up to the financial realities and the output driven nature of arts funding. The Poetry Review simply does not generate the outputs, compared to the other areas of work done by the Poetry Society.

  9. Jenny Gladstone permalink
    July 30, 2011 10:34 am

    The piece reads well, with pithy arguments and moderate language. It is not vindictive. I trust the case presented here.

  10. Lindy Barbour permalink
    July 29, 2011 10:41 pm

    Poetry Review is often pretty boring actually

  11. Lindy Barbour permalink
    July 29, 2011 10:34 pm

    @Pogonisby. Saddest, most pathetic, cheapest, tooth, comb, shop? Hard to know where you’re coming from. Would you like to explain your position more clearly?

  12. July 29, 2011 6:07 pm

    If the worries of poets and poetry lovers are too pathetic for you, why bother commenting? No need to reply. I’m sure you must have bigger fish to fry.

  13. Angela France permalink
    July 29, 2011 6:05 pm

    Russ – the rotating editorship is *not* central to the chaos – this is a complete misreading of all the information available here. The Trustees acted wrongly, breaking employment laws and conditions of employment; they showed scant knowledge of their roles and responsibilities as trustees and have risked the stability of the whole society. I have worked for charities for years and know something about trustees and governance. Judith was left with no choice but to resign and has a very solid case against them if she should wish to pursue it. I know that if I went to my board of trustees to suggest I should report directly to them, instead of to my director, they’d send me away with a (deserved) flea in my ear!

    As for the Review, you think it would rise from the ashes? Without the poetry society membership subscriptions (which includes an automatic subscription to the review), I suspect it would be in the same position as most poetry journals, regardless of how well respected they are – i.e. struggling for funds and desperate for subscriptions.

  14. Ingrid Seymour permalink
    July 29, 2011 2:32 pm

    Perhaps the Poetry Society should consider abandoning Poetry Review completely as it seems to be the cause of so much of the problem, the problem of underpinning and validating a narrow clique of poets who are alluded to but remain anonymous in these postings. Each editor, even if they only stay for three years, will have a particular range of poetry they will publish. There are no circumstances in which revenue funding from the taxpayer, in the current climate, should be underwriting this type of activity; it is inaccessible to most people and therefore falls well outside Arts Council England broad aims. The tiny readership of modern poetry simply is never addressed in any of these discussions, yet it is probably the single most important issue, especially when the impoverished portrait of poets is admitted as a general reality..

    If Poetry Review breaks away it should fund itself or find independent funding like so many of the other magazines which collectivley publish a representative range of new work in a professional manner without any funding, other than subscriptions and sales of the magazines. Let these poets name themselves…if they want a taxpayer to fund their mouthpiece and let the taxpayer see and hear them read their work in public.

    The benefit culture of Arts Council regular funding has created a culture where many established poets seem to think they have a right to receive validation without having a significant readership. Poets validating one another in ever decreasing circles is simply a playground game: it is a false and unreal environment.

    There is a real argument for no poetry pubisher to receive core funding from the Arts Council for either magazine, pamphlet or collection publications – like most publishers in the real world – not the long term benefit world – they should generate sufficient interest in their publications to fund their activities through sales revenue and perhaps a modicum of subscription.

    • July 29, 2011 6:17 pm

      I believe that, without Poetry Review, or a similar magazine, the Poetry Society would be incomplete.

      To me, the slogan “Helping poets and poetry thrive in Britain today” implies a commitment to encourage poetry at all levels, from schoolchildren making their first discoveries in the joy of words to those with a lifetime of experience, and from those taking their first steps in producing verse to those who are at the peak of their talent and in the top rank of poets. The Poetry Society caters for all those groups, and Poetry Review is the part of it that celebrates excellence. That there are few who read modern poetry may be true, but it is irrelevant: the Poetry Society is about poetry, and therefore about those (few) to whom it is important.

      I don’t believe you can successfully support the aspiring, without also championing those who have succeeded. If you don’t show what success looks like, then aspiration cannot exist – there is nothing to aspire to.

      It may be that, for various political and personal reasons, Poetry Review parts company with the Poetry Society. If it does, then the Poetry Society will very soon realise that it needs something to replace it, as without a flagship journal, the society will be, in more than one sense, pointless.

    • July 29, 2011 10:42 pm

      If someone starts a poetry magazine it is only natural and right that they remain its editor for as long as they wish. It is their magazine. But Poetry Review isn’t that kind of magazine. When was it started?. Why was it? In any case we – the members of the Poetry Society and the general public – have inherited it. It appears to be the case that its current editor wanted to be its editor until she should choose to leave. The Poetry Society appears to have said she could. There is evidence to show that they acted unconstitutionally in granting her wish however. Does this render their action null and void legally? I am hoping that someone with a keen legal eye spots a clause which means that it doesn’t matter what they said or did, it all has to be struck out becasue it is just not allowed.

  15. Ingrid Seymour permalink
    July 29, 2011 11:10 am

    It’s refreshing to read Kate’s comments about her own experience as a poet and her admission of disbelief in the (paranoid) idea of a cabal of London Centric poets. However there are established poets who live well outside London who also appear to support London centred control of validation and recognition, and who do so sometimes with extreme aggression, and this includes some poetry editors. This extends to prizes and competitions. For example Neil R. one of the Judges for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, last year publicly denigrated and insulted the quality of most of the submitted collections in his judges comments and went on to Ledbury where he was involved in an event bemoaning the appearance of poets from outside ‘recognised’ fields of validation, in a widening range of prizes and awards. A direct refusal to accept that open competition and a new and developing readership and writing environment is both healty and fair, and is simply not going to vanish at the behest of people who favour the old established elitist guard.

    How many times do we need to encounter vacuous meaningless and smoke and mirror terms like ‘the real thing’ and ‘ought to’ or ‘too much ambition’, — all about hierarchy, control and power practiced for the benefit of specific poets and publishers. What are we to make of an editor who sits as chair of the judging panel, in recent times, in judgement of a major poetry book prize whose poet was one of those shortlisted, and who claimed he left the room when the final decision was made, but his poet won anyway…and the journalists present said nothing the next day, despite obvious murmerings in the room. That was one party I was at and I wonder how many more times nepotism, power and vested interests among established figures have perpetuated grossly unfair decisions, not based on merit, but reputation,connections and all the connotations of that type of working environment.

    • August 2, 2011 9:08 pm

      Ingrid, something that is rarely discussed when it comes to awards is how the judges are themselves selected. Who decides upon whom in that respect? It’s easy to see how the same people might appear over and over – but that tends to generate a positive feedback loop: those particular tastes/ names progagate throughout the system, which then expects similar tastes to be further propagated. The radical position in this would be to become aware that discussing the selection of judges is as crucial as discussing the choices they make: this is itself a core issue that touches on ‘vested interests’. I recall contacting NESTA once to ask who its poetry judges were, only to be told that would compromise their anonymity! Strange how contemporary poetry sometimes delights in circular argument.

      • August 3, 2011 7:05 am

        This is maybe going a bit off-topic but I think Mario’s point a very good one, which isn’t considered as often as it should be. Quis custodiet, indeed!

  16. July 29, 2011 10:59 am

    And Rus, many people who have work in the current issue of Poetry Review have signed the petition. It’s certainly not as straightforward as people all bitter and twisted because the PR does not publish them.

    Like Andy says, it is not an attack on anyone and I think Kate’s metaphor is a fine one. The keys cannot just stay with one person.

    I admire Kate for taking this on. It’s been a lot of work.

  17. July 29, 2011 10:53 am

    The avoidance of any discussion with the membership about the Editorship’s change of tenure is central to the present chaos.
    Four thousand obedient members cough up their yearly subs – and are not contacted about their flagship magazine changing its procedure.
    Bit by bit secrecy is being chipped away, but it’s hard work, (especially as we are treated like mediaeval peasants.)

  18. fatwhitecat permalink
    July 29, 2011 9:59 am

    Beautifully put, with the conciseness and clarity your readers have come to expect of you, Kate. Thanks.

  19. July 29, 2011 8:49 am

    I’ve just signed the petition for Judith’s reinstatement, and I endorse the points made about a rotational editorship at Poetry Review. Even with the best will in the world, one pair of eyes can become dulled.
    Michael Thomas

  20. Caroline Carver permalink
    July 29, 2011 8:32 am

    Thank you Kate

  21. July 29, 2011 8:15 am

    Rus, Kate’s article is not an attack on anyone. It points out that the editorship of PR – a post that was for a fixed tenure (and for very good reason) – has been made permanant without any mention being made to the Membership. The editorship of the Review has, historically, often been an issue that has caused rancour amongst Members and poets. That’s why it was placed on a three year tenure – so if Members or poets don’t like the direction of editorial style of the Review under any one editorship, they know that someone else will take up the role within a few years. This is not factional fighting, it’s about avoiding factional fighting. Of course, there are other reasons why the role shouldn’t be a ‘job for life’. Sheenagh touched on one earlier (above) in this strand.

  22. July 29, 2011 6:56 am

    I’m sure we are all glad you did rally a group of poets, Kate!

    As for “what bad thing has happened to Poetry Review”, I think you haven’t read carefully enough, Rusbowden. What has happened is that the editor’s job has been made permanent with no notice to anyone. Whether that is “bad” or not in itself is open to debate, though I would say it is always a bad idea for an editorship to stay too long in the same hands (the eye and judgement get stale), but what is “bad” is for it to happen in the dark. I should state, btw, that (a) iIhave had no problem getting poems accepted there and (b) I don’t want the job and never would, given that I live closer to Bergen than to London. One shouldn’t have to say that, but if people will assume all criticism has a personal basis, one has to.

  23. July 29, 2011 12:55 am

    Surely this is a pertinent issue. A campaign to secure more independence for Poetry Review has been going on for some time, preceding the funding situation. A person of influence in the poetry world told me they had been lobbied by well-known poets, the aim being more independence, perhaps total independence from the Society of Poetry Review. A request for a separate url for Poetry Review had been made. I believe that certain powerful poets and publishers have been trying to influence the situation, to try to create an independent, separately funded Poetry Review, under Fiona Sampson, which will continue to serve an agenda which suits them. There is a fear of the inevitable generational turnover, a fear of a more pluralist editor coming in, and a lack of other sympathetic outlets for the hierarchy to place and promote their work in. I know that Fiona has featured new writers alongside well-established ones, but the tone of the magazine still seems too much in line with a waning hegemony. The Review has been the magazine of the Society for a long time and must remain so. It’s a crucial part of bringing in Society memberships. I believe the editorship should change every five years at most. Poetry London is currently thriving under Colette Bryce and Tim Dooley – it’s lively, varied and appears to have no agenda or outside influence in its presentation of mainstream UK poetry. We ought to be able to ask the same of Poetry Review.

    • July 29, 2011 3:37 pm

      Roddy, I agree with your comments, for their merit, not just because I’m a fellow Scot!

      I’ve attached a longer Reply comment to Judith Palmer’s long statement, which summarises aspects of my ‘northern’ view, although I’ve lived for the last 8 years in Spain.

    • MadMetaphoricalMax permalink
      August 10, 2011 11:38 am

      The idea of the Society and Poetry Review having secretly agreed to an editor-for-life deal is about as bizarre and unpalatable as the idea of giving the grant money to a few well-known very-well supported poets rather than supporting the wider poetry scene. The editor should in no way be able to keep that under-the-table jobs-for-life guarantee. In fact, that under-the-table deal seems to be at the root of the trouble that resulted in the PS’s spunking of 30 grand in a fit of paranoid, administrative buffoonery. So this is also about the editor, as well as the board’s handling of the issue. Poetry London and Magma both have editorships that change and bring in fresh perspectives and tastes and writers, and PR could well do the same to become more interesting and vital rather than becoming rigid and moribund, and dominated by the same old same old.

      • Alex permalink
        August 10, 2011 1:32 pm

        MadMetaphoricalMax, I agree with your general line. But I think what I and others were trying to say is that it’s about the position of editor, rather than the personality of the current editor. i.e. it’s about administrative arrangements, not personalities. OK?

  24. Lindy Barbour permalink
    July 29, 2011 12:49 am

    Sounds like a direct and emotionally open account of events that have seemed from the outside, here in Scotland, secret , unfair and elitist. Thank you for your efforts

  25. July 28, 2011 10:38 pm

    Kate you have been very courageous and optimistic too, One has to be optimistic. The rest of us are so grateful for your leadership over this matter of the membership and the board.
    More than ten per cent of members demanded the meeting, and the vote of no confidence in the trustees was passed by a massive majority. We have no confidence in the trustees – that’s official. I have heard Poetry Review being described as the elephant in the corner over the Trustees disgraceful behaviour. It is the trustees who have all but wrecked the Poetry Society, not poets, and it is time to take an honest and cautious peek at the elephant.
    If Fiona is totally innocent of any stirring up of this then I am truly sorry for her, but she did show she took sides in that email she sent, and I dont see her name on the petition/demand to the triustees to go back to Square One.
    Also I do not think it has been emphasised enough (there hasnt been time) how long and distinguished Judith Palmer’s relationship with the Poetry Society has been. her integrity, restraint and common sense have shone out through this whole affair.
    When the first reply to our first letter of enquiry came back from the Trustees I was utterly horrified by its tone of You Dont Matter, Go Away and We Have Solicitors You Know. I actually resigned on the spot, but came back when I realised you needed every name to reach the ten percent figure which you eventually surpassed.
    Bureaucrats always want to leave a clean paper trail and have their Official Side of a story left as the record. With the internet, that just isnt possible any more.
    The terrible mess is not the fault of the 500, 600, 1,000 poets and poetry readers who have rallied and said, the Trustees’ behaviour is not acceptable – we have voted no confidence in them. They have no moral right to remain or to act against our, the members’, will.
    The fight is not over and I do not even trust them to go gently into that good night. They may well try to take the Society down with them by wasting more of its money.
    Wouldnt it be dreadful if the public found out there were two or three hundred brilliant poets in the country, instead of the ten or twenty poets the Establishment would like them to know about? and wouldnt all that lovely money have to be shared round a bit further? These I believe are the motives of the people who oppose us.

    Sally Evans

    • July 29, 2011 3:45 pm

      Sally, It’s been many a year.
      in relation to what you also describe as a “mess” you might like to have a look at my reply comment attached to Judith Palmer’s long and helpful statement, which I posted earlier today.

    • August 1, 2011 1:45 pm

      Well said, Sally. You hit all the nails on the head!

    • August 1, 2011 4:20 pm

      “She could have gone on record that she was not in cahoots with anything she perceived as wrong doings.”

      But she couldn’t have done that as Director, could she? By staying on, she would inevitably have been endorsing whatever the board chose to do; you can’t dissociate yourself from the people you work for, except by leaving! She was, IMO, constructively dismissed.

      “If it was unethical for the trustees to spend the money on legal fees, then it was unethical for the lawyers to accept it.”

      Eh??? This is lawyers we’re talking about, of course they accepted it! Why shouldn’t they? it was wrong for the board to spend the money because it was stupid; they already had pro bono arrangements in place and could have got advice far cheaper. Since it was the members’ money they were foolnig around with, they had a duty to spend it more wisely. That doesn’t mean there was anything wrong in the lawyers accepting what they were offered; fools and their money, you know…

      • August 2, 2011 11:27 am

        Hi Sheenagh, My husband is a lawyer and was horrified when I told him about the sums of money that had been spent by the Trustees on legal advice. His firm, he said, would never have taken such a brief but would have simply advised the Board on the correct way for them to go about obtaining the advice they needed. I’m sure that applies to many other firms as well. Unfortunately, our errant Trustees landed in the wrong place.

  26. July 28, 2011 9:59 pm

    Thank the Lord for you, Kate Clanchy.


  1. Updates « Poetry Society members
  2. Reality back, please. « Poet on the rocks
  3. The Poetry Society Members’ Site « The Poetry Society

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