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Press Release

August 3, 2011


 Petition of a thousand voices calls to restore order at the Poetry Society

Over a thousand poetry-lovers, writers, publishers, teachers and readers have signed a petition to restore order at the Poetry Society.

Following last week’s stormy general meeting, which resulted in a vote of no confidence against the Society’s board of trustees, TS Eliot prize-winning poet George Szirtes launched the petition on Wednesday to restore the Director, Judith Palmer, to her position, which she resigned in May.

The petition asks for Ms Palmer’s reinstatement “without apportioning blame and in the interests of a new start; and as the best hope for the Society which serves the art form we all love.”

Since Wednesday afternoon the petition – which carries the names of laureates Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, and  the former Poetry Society president Jo Shapcott – has gained over a thousand signatures, including those of many well-loved poets including Simon Armitage, Roger McGough and Fleur Adcock.

The petition also attracted the support of novelists Linda Grant, Helen Dunmore and Tim Parks, independent publishers Chris Hamilton-Emery, Neil Astley and Michael Schmidt, writer Marina Warner, and others.

George Szirtes said: “Poetry is recognised all over the world as Britain’s greatest contribution to international culture. The Poetry Society should represent the great power of poetry in this country and be a cause of pride. This petition is an attempt to ensure that it can be so.”

Poet Luke Wright, who runs workshops for pupils of all ages as well as adults, said: “The Poetry Society does all kinds of amazing work with all kinds of amazing people, showing them how poetry can connect with their lives. This is the Poetry Society I know and love and I think we all want them to keep on doing it.”

The petition can be read here.

George Szirtes and Luke Wright are both available for interview. Please contact Katy Evans-Bush on 07931 563408 or

— ENDS —


The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 and has a mission to “advance the study, use and enjoyment of poetry.

Judith Palmer had recently secured an increase in the Arts Council grant from £262,000pa to £360,000pa starting in 2012-13. The current grant is currently being withheld due to the Poetry Society’s current situation.

A verifiable account by Judith Palmer of the events leading to her resignation statement, as well as other documentation of recent events, can be found at

Other signatories of the petition include:

Jackie Kay

Michael Horovitz

Matthew Sweeney

Owen Sheers

Lavinia Greenlaw

Douglas Dunn

Philip Gross

Imtiaz Dharker

Penelope Shuttle

Gwyneth Lewis

Ian Duhig

Naomi Alderman

Desmond Clarke

Colin Ford

Vicky Feaver

Jen Hadfield

Maurice Riordan

Alistair Niven

Roddy Lumsden

Kei Miller

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Ruth Valentine permalink
    August 3, 2011 10:40 pm

    I’m a poet and a consultant to charities, and I’m appalled by all this. If there’s a new board, can I suggest that before they start making major decisions they get themselves briefed on their role as a Board, their legal responsibilities and the basics of employment law. And then perhaps everyone can think about why (if at all) we need a poetry society.

  2. August 3, 2011 7:03 pm

    Dear Martin,
    No one, certainly not I, is accusing you of a conspiracy. My point, which I’ve had to reiterate many times here, I don’t know why, is a simple one: No one has the right to call themselves thepoetrysocietyuk which sounds as if they (you) are setting yourself up as the actual voice of a unified Poetry Society.
    As you know, this site was set up for the exchange of views of members precisely because the Poetry Society is at a crossroads where nothing definite about its future will be decided for a while yet. Therefore it is inappropriate, no matter how you slice it, for anyone to set themselves up as the voice of this society.
    I have been trying to explain this to you all day. It is not simply my opinion. There is a principle involved that I am sure is agreed by everyone, both former directors, the former and future trustees, the overpaid lawyers, everyone…
    If I am accusing you of anything it is of not using your head, which I’m sure is a good one. Maybe there’s a generation gap operating here. I’m probably old enough to be your grandmother.
    Do understand what I’m saying now? You promised in an e-mail to me that you wouldn’t set yourself up in this way any more. I’m disappointed that you haven’t kept your promise, and I don’t know why.
    With all good wishes,

    • Desmond Swords permalink
      August 4, 2011 2:59 am

      ‘No one has the right to call themselves thepoetrysocietyuk’..?

      I think you’ll find that anyone who wants to can call themself ‘thepoetrysocietyuk’, as long as that name is not subject to legal restraint by way of copyright.

      As Robert Graves stated in 1954 when delivering his opening Clark Lecture, The Crowning Privilege, at Cambridge University:

      “A poet may put up his brass plate, so to speak, without the tedious preliminaries of attending a university, reading the required books and satisfying examiners. Also, a poet, being responsible to no General Council, and acknowledging no personal superior, can never be unfrocked, cashiered, disbarred, struck off the register, hammered on ‘Change, or flogged round the fleet, if he is judged guilty of unpoetic conduct. The only limits legally set on his activities are the acts relating to libel, pornography, treason, and the endangerment of public order. And if he earns the scorn of his colleagues, what effective sanctions can they take against him? None at all.”

    • August 6, 2011 1:16 am

      Thanks, Des. Sensible and succinct.

      Leah, I think the identity and purpose of this site have been clear from the start. It doesn’t pretend to masquerade as the official site, but when that site wasn’t letting members know what was going on, this site fulfilled a genuine need in its stead. And it IS a Poetry Society site, set up to express the concerns of about 500 members. That’s pretty representative, I think.

      Finally, ThePoetrySocietyUK – note the difference in name – is the username that came with the site when I set it up. Nothing more sinister than that.

  3. August 3, 2011 6:06 pm

    Looking forward to many posts actually discussing the press release.

    For the record, this site is set up and moderated by Poetry Society members seeking to disseminate verified information, openness and due process in the working of the Board and the Society, as stated on the About page. The site does not adopt a discriminatory stance. If there’s a conspiracy, it’s certainly not here. I’m not up to it.

    Martin – admin

    • August 3, 2011 7:13 pm

      You say that this website is set up and moderated by Poetry Society members. Fine. Who are they? I am a member, and when you call yourself the Poetry Society you are not actually representing me, or I wouldn’t have to do this all day long when, yes, I have enough on my plate, too, maybe more than you. Would you like it if I sent out news releases calling myself the Poetry Society? I have as much right to do that as you. Now do you understand?

      • August 4, 2011 8:58 am

        Leah, it seems a bit over the top to be spending “all day long” on this. I get it that you don’t like this website having a name which identifies it with the Poetry Society, but since its pages are completely open and available to all I’m not sure why that matters so much to you? Of course, if anyone felt for whatever reason it was impossible for their views to be heard here, it would be absolutely legitimate for that person to set up an alternative forum, and to use “Poetry Society” in their name too. The internet, for all its faults, is a level playing field.

        I don’t know why you think the press release went out “in the name of the Poetry Society” either? I can’t see anything suggesting it did. There’s no mystery about where the petition comes from – it was signed, openly, by over a thousand people, all with a love of poetry and the interests of the Society at heart, and all agreeing, as the wording says, not to apportion blame for the mess we are in. What is there about this piece of grassroots democratic action which you see as misleading or confusing?

    • August 3, 2011 8:00 pm

      I’m still up in ‘awaiting moderation’ land. Why?

      • August 4, 2011 12:34 pm

        Hi Leah, just a general response to this as a point of procedure. Moderation is a pain, that’s true; and it means having to wait until a moderator has had time to review your comment, which is difficult if they’re off making dinner or whatever. I’m not a moderator here, but the moderation was set up partly on my recommendation, so I cheerfully take some responsibility for your frustration. Rest assured it isn’t just you.

  4. Lydia Macpherson permalink
    August 3, 2011 3:52 pm

    Leah, if you go to the ‘About’ section of this website you will see that ‘thepoetrysocietyuk’ is the site moderator, Martin Alexander. Given that you’ve already put a comment on that section it seems a bit disingenuous to be asking…

    All best


    • August 3, 2011 4:30 pm

      Dear Lydia,
      I have gone beyond that question in my further comments which have not yet seen the light of day here. There is a good reason why that signature should not be used when the society is in a state of flux. It could be signed ‘adminforpoetrysociety’ of some such, or better still with Martin’s own name. But I doubt this comment will be published either. Suffice it to say I don’t write disingenuous things – nor do you, I’m sure. There is connective tissue missing which you haven’t read because it’s still awaiting ‘modification.’
      All best,

  5. August 3, 2011 2:03 pm

    Why are my comments waiting for ‘moderation’? Who is moderating? Martin, if you have another day job, who is altering the posts while you’re away?

  6. August 3, 2011 12:37 pm

    Since there is an interim Board and an Interim Director (?), who is issuing news releases under the name of the Poetry Society?

    • battypip permalink
      August 3, 2011 12:57 pm

      and who is posting FB updates, which seem to be generally favourable to the members’ stance (as opposed to the board’s)?

    • August 3, 2011 12:58 pm

      What makes you think it’s “under the name of the Poetry Society”, Leah? Where does it say that?

    • August 3, 2011 1:21 pm

      The About page should answer your question. I’m not responsible for what happens on Facebook!

      Martin – admin

      • August 3, 2011 1:35 pm

        I’m not on Facebook. I’m here. Who are you, ‘thepoetrysocietyuk’?

    • August 3, 2011 3:11 pm

      Leah, Martin has already directed you to the answer to your question:

      Surely he’s got enough on his plate, without having to reply to you twice.

      There’s an air of insinuation about your remarks, as if you’re suggesting something improper or underhand. If so, don’t be coy – come out with it!

      • August 3, 2011 5:09 pm

        Dear JB,
        I have explained on other posts why it is inappropriate at this time for anyone to sign as if they are speaking for the whole poetry society, and those posts have at last been put up, so you can read them now. I don’t think Martin understood that until I explained it. And then I thanked him very heartily for his work here. I don’t insinuate, JB, whoever you are. It’s not in my nature.
        Leah Fritz


  1. Updates « Poetry Society members
  2. The Poetry Society Members’ Site « The Poetry Society

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