20th July 2011 – Still exasperated and confused? Read this long and exciting post on the Discussion page.
18th July 2011 – FAQ 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.