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20th July 2011 – Still exasperated and confused? Read this long and exciting post on the Discussion page.

18th July 2011FAQ asked and answered by Kate Clanchy.

See Fiona Moore’s Displacement blog for an interesting analysis of the state of play….


Conversation with a Perplexed Poet

This Proxy business – run it by me one more time

Ok. If you can’t get to the meeting on the 22nd, you appoint someone you know to carry your proxy. That means, they get to be you at the meeting, to vote for you on as many motions as arise. That is a serious responsibility, so we think you should choose someone you know, preferably personally, but otherwise through their writing. There is a list of people going to the meeting on our website, under Proxies, and full instructions too. One person can hold several proxies. Latest news: you can email proxies, both to PoSoc and to the holder.

Well that’s okay, but I still don’t know what side to be on! I mean, I like Poetry Review –  

This isn’t about sides. And it certainly isn’t about the quality of Poetry Review. It’s about getting information which we are entitled to, and it’s about ascertaining that we trust our Board of Trustees.

So you’re trying to get rid of the Trustees?

We’re trying to make sure we have a Board which the members of the Society can trust. Because of the recent events, this means asking some hard questions. There are certain facts we already know, but we don’t know why they happened, and we don’t know why they were not communicated to the members.  Our main objectives are to find the answers to those questions; and then to make sure we have a Board of Trustees in place who can represent us; this is a prerequisite for working with ACE, for a start.

Aren’t you being a bit mean and negative about the nice facilitated meeting the Poetry Society has set up for you?

We hope not. On Friday the Acting Chair wrote a message to everyone about this, and I’ve written a reply which is on our website. It points out that the Requisition asked for a Chair, not a facilitator (two different things), and that the poetry community is not so impoverished or so divided that we could not have found a suitable one.  We worry that a facilitator will have a specific agenda or outcome, and that a potentially compromised ‘agreement’, rather than firm answers to firm questions, will be the outcome. It also seems a terrible waste, at a time when the Society is bleeding money.

I hear you’ve been publishing private details on social websites?

No we haven’t. We have simply pointed out that in 2009, without the knowledge of members, the editorship of Poetry Review was made a permanent post for the current incumbent. That is not a private fact: it belongs, like the previous announcement that the post was to be for three years only, with you, the members. We also wrote that the Director resigned over a change in her mandate, such that the Editor of Poetry Review reported direct to the Board, not to the PoSoc Director as was the traditional practice. We believe that such an important structural change should have been brought to the members at an AGM. That is not, and should never have been treated as, private information.

Is that all true?

Yes. We have the documents. We’ll get them out at the meeting.

Is that really all that’s at the root of all this?

No, this is just what we know for sure. We hope to learn more at the meeting.

But, if you pass a vote of no confidence, ACE will take away the money, and then PoSoc will go bust…

ACE will give PoSoc the money if it is satisfied that its members – you – have confidence in the Board. A meeting is the only way to get answers to our questions,  and to ask ourselves, as a body, if we are satisfied – made confident – by those answers.

The Board, however, appears to be interpreting ‘confidence’ to mean that ACE will give the money if no lack of confidence is recorded – that is, if dissent is damped down and a vote is avoided. (We do not think ACE would be fooled by this, but we have written them about our troubles, just for the record.)

But if you make the Board resign, there will be no Board! Then there will be no grant and the world will come to an end! You see, there is no alternative

Oh, there is. This weekend, we asked some of the hardest workers in Poetry if they would be willing to put themselves up as candidates for an Interim Board. That is, a Board of temporary trustees who could pick up the reins and keep the Poetry Society on course until the AGM, in November, when they will stand down and a normal Board be elected.

Amazingly, the following people said they would be willing to stand:

Cary Archard, founder of Seren Books, and former editor of Poetry Wales

Judith Chernaik, OBE, founder and Director of Poems on the Underground

Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, Chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland

Gary Mckeone, Chair of the Poetry Archive, former Literature Director of Arts Council England.

Professor Michael Schmidt OBE, founder of PN Review and Carcanet Press

Laurie Smith, one of the founders and now the chair of Magma Magazine

George Szirtes FRSL, poet, translator, founder of Starwheel press, former Chair of the PBS

It’s hard to believe that there can be many members of the Poetry Society whose work has not been touched and benefited by at least one of these individuals. These are people we can all trust to turn the Society around.

You may have a point. ACE would definitely give them the money, wouldn’t they?

Yes, especially as they have all agreed to work with Judith Palmer – also temporarily. The hugely extended grant that’s at the heart of many people’s anxiety at the moment was given by ACE for Judith’s plan, but also to Judith, as a Director. ACE has confidence in her.

But wait a minute – she resigned –

Here’s the clever bit. The mandate of the new board will be to turn back the clock to April 1st, when the Poetry Society was on its finest form ever. Judith is willing to return under that mandate, and has already said so to the Poetry Society. The Interim Board will work through the problems that caused the original ruckus in a methodical and constitutional way, and it will bring its major decisions to the AGM.

Well, that would save a huge pay-out, anyway.


Wait a bit – I’m getting those paranoid feelings again. It’s all a fix! You’ve been planning this along! Shadow Board! Evil manipulation! You’ve sucked my proxy into your computer and…

The only answer I have to that is to look at the individuals on my list. Do you think that George Szirtes wishes to do anything other than serve the community and help others? Has his life’s work shown you otherwise? Does anyone who has ever been inside the Scottish Poetry Library doubt that Robyn Marsack is a brilliant and deeply generous administrator? How many of you have been published or reviewed in, read for, or simply enjoyed Magma, Poetry Wales or PNR? Don’t you appreciate the energy and organization that started them? Who has not sat on the Underground and not wondered at the love and enterprise that went into those poems? Do you believe any of these people are conspirators, or for sale?

As for proxies, not even our webmaster Martin Alexander can do that sucking into a computer trick. If there were an evil plot it would have been simpler for me to demand that your proxy vote go to one member – myself. I haven’t asked for that: I’ve encouraged people to give their proxies to people they know. I’m really proud that so many stanza reps are coming to the meeting, carrying the proxies of three or four of their members. That’s the way it should be, and it speaks very well indeed of the Poetry Society’s national work.

So what are these questions about again? Money? I’m confused.

The questions are about changes to policy and lack of consultation. They are about the Board changing the Director’s mandate, not consulting members, and seeming to try to avoid answering members’ questions. They are about the Board having allowed a situation to reach such an impasse that numerous people – including a Director who had just won an increased grant from ACE – felt they had to resign.

Any issues that underlie these actions will need to be dealt with by whoever is in place after the meeting; and dealt with in such a way that the Poetry Society can get on with its work – indeed, as they said on their website a few weeks ago, so we can all get on with ‘business as usual’.
When the Poetry Society published their letter with mine on Friday, they did me a disservice. It was a miserable, lawerly letter, unlike the normal spritely communications from Requisition Towers. Lots of people probably think I’m/we’re really like  that. This a good group to be in: please pass this email out widely, and ask people to get in touch if they’d like to be on our list.
7 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin permalink*
    July 20, 2011 12:51 pm

    Several people have asked about the role of the Board:

    It is composed of Trustees appointed by Members to serve the interests of the Poetry Society and its members for a fixed period. In recent weeks, it has seemed to many that the current Board have been acting as if they ran or owned the Poetry Society themselves and are not accountable to the Members.

    It is important to note that the Vice Presidents’ role is an honorary one, and they are not directly involved in overseeing the management of the Society.

  2. Martin - admin permalink*
    July 19, 2011 1:21 pm

    See Fiona Moore’s Displacement blog for an interesting analysis of the state of play….

  3. July 18, 2011 11:49 am

    Do you ever publish dissenting comments on your website, please?

    • Martin - admin permalink*
      July 19, 2011 1:49 pm


      One or two posts have been blocked because they have been abusive or slagging someone off with personal or unsubstantiated comments, but the whole point of this site is that it is an open forum where members can be free to say what they think.

      If there is a single view that informs this site, it is that many of us are surprised and worried by the large number of unexplained resignations and by the Board’s refusal to tell the membership what has been going on. As a result of pressure from ordinary members, the EGM will take place on Friday and we hope that full explanations will be given by the Board.

      If you would like to dissent from this view, or from any of the views expressed by individuals on this site, please go ahead.

      We would very much welcome your views. (I was going to write privately by email to say that I removed your first post and replaced it with your correction to spelling. Unfortunately, your e-mail address seems to be miss-typed. Martin)

  4. Martin - admin permalink*
    July 18, 2011 10:34 am

    FAQ – answered by Kate Clanchy.

    The first question really is very frequently asked:

    1) It’s all about Poetry Review isn’t it?

    No. In no update, in no letter, in no email, in no posting, neither on our website nor or discussion group, have we ever mentioned the quality of Poetry Review or even the name of its editor –

    2) It’s all because you can’t get your poems in, isn’t it?

    No. It’s because Poetry Review isn’t an issue for our campaign. Our questions are for the Board.

    3) Did you get a lot of rejection slips?

    Lots of requisitionists write for Poetry Review, all of us read it, some of us are major fans. And two of us are Poets Laureate –

    4) But, in yesterday’s update, you said it was all about Poetry Review –

    I most certainly did not. I said, the Director was impelled to resign when her mandate was suddenly changed so that the Editor reported to the Board, not the Director. It wasn’t just that this meant a major structural change, it was that the change was imposed without consultation with staff, Director, Arts Council, or members. Us.

    5) Why didn’t they consult, then?

    A good question for the meeting.

    6) Bet they won’t answer it. Bet it’s all embargoed, legal, personal stuff..

    Actually, all they have to do is confirm the change was made without consultation. We aren’t looking to punish anyone, you know. All the trustees are good people doing this in their own time. We just want them to acknowledge a mistake –

    7) Maybe it’s all down to the Director – maybe she sued them!

    The Director has confirmed that she has taken no legal action.

    8 ) What did they spend £26k on lawyers for, then? Was it really that much?

    £26k and rising as we speak. Why is a Mystery and an Enigma reminiscent of the Sphinx.

    9) Will you squeeze it out of them at the meeting?

    Answer as six above.

    10) This is all about money isn’t it?

    And Governance. And Management. And actually, I’m getting pretty interested in the Constitution..

    11) I’m not. I was hoping for something a bit juicier, frankly. A bit more personal. Don’t think I’ll bother with that meeting –

    No! You have to go to the meeting. We’re going to bring the Poetry Society back from the brink!

    12) You can’t do that – the Arts Council will never give us the money now –

    Yes we can. At the meeting, we can ask the Board to acknowledge their mistake, and step down. Some of them may step down in advance. Then we can appoint an interim Board to take us through to the AGM –

    13) Ah hah! A Putsch! I knew it. You want to run it yourself!

    No. Kate Clanchy, for one, will not be on any Board, ever. But we can find enough good people and existing Trustees to take care of the PoSoc from July to November. That Board can do what this one can’t: go back to the end of April, when the grant was given, and start from there. ACE had faith in The Poetry Society then, so if we start afresh from that point, with a Board the members trust, the grant can still be paid. Then we can have the best AGM ever, because so many people have become freshly enthused via the requisition process, and get a new Board willing to change the constitution to make sure this can’t happen again. Then we can have a better, stronger, more united Poetry Society. We really can.

    14) IF I go to the meeting…

    Yes. Or get a proxy.

    Click on Proxies, for all you need to know about getting represented.

    If you are going to the meeting, you’ll need your membership card. Dig it out, or call Paul McGrane at PoSoc if you can’t find it.

    We’ll meet in Lincoln’s Inn Fields before the meeting for a picnic, at the sign of the Red Wheelbarrow.


  5. Anne Vinden permalink
    July 15, 2011 4:28 pm

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Re: This is all about…
    Date: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 16:49:22 +0200
    To: Kate Clanchy

    Hi – My Poetry Review point is slightly different. Since the spate of resignations seem to have been provoked by a major structural change, made without consultation – whereby the Editor of Poetry Review now reports to the Board and not to the Director – isn’t it of interest just why that particular change was made? Shouldn’t we inquire into the thinking behind it?



  1. Updates « The Poetry Society

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