Poetry Society – What’s happening?

June 29, 2011

I don’t belong to the Poetry Society these days (not since their house mag Poetry Review was edited by a guy called Robert Potts, who made it just about unreadable).

But since it’s the UK’s premier poetry association, I take a bit of an interest in its doings, and currently these seem to be weird. There have been resignations from the board. There are obscure articles in the press hinting at dirty doings. I have been sent emails full of fervour but not very clear at all about what’s happening. Can anyone fill me in?

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7 Responses to “Poetry Society – What’s happening?”


  1. I’ve received emails today (I suspect I’m just one of a huge list of recipients) asking that I demand an extraordinary general meeting and the replacement of the Poetry Society board. But no explanation why this is necessary or desirable. Stormy waters.
    And the Guardian reports further turmoil, but casts little light on it.

  2. Fiona Says:

    You could try blogs. 2 very clear pieces: at Rob Mackenzie’s Surroundings, (post dated 28 June) and Katy Evans-Bush’s Baroque in Hackney (post dated 23 June). Also my blog Displacement (last 2 posts, and today’s update in the comments under the last post).


    • Thanks, Fiona. These accounts certainly give an interesting picture of the seethings and spittings currently going on.
      But I still don’t really get what it’s about. Is it just a matter of some people getting annoyed because they think others are behaving badly?

      • Fiona Says:

        Well, as I said on my blog, it’s a storm in a teacup. But any organisation that loses several top staff within a month and refuses to say anything about it is dysfunctional. Besides, the PoSoc is a registered charity with a substantial paying membership, and the largest single chunk of its income, over 1/3, is from public funds (the Arts Council). This proportion will rise with the recently announced increase in the AC grant (in contrast to removal of grants from the PBS, Poetry Trust and several publishers).
        Then there is the rumour/allegation that some in the PS want to use the AC grant for high-profile poetic activity, as well as for the educational goals which constitute the PS’s charitable objects and for which the grant was given.
        Then there is a whole lot of stuff about personalities, Poetry Review etc which I think it is best to keep well away from! But I suspect that a lot of ordinary members, like me, have lost confidence in the PS because of its refusal to give any account of itself to the membership. And also the grant business – it’s getting all this extra money at a time of cuts, but is the PS, despite much good work it’s done in the past, currently capable of spending such money wisely, accountably, and according to its charitable objects?

  3. msbaroque Says:

    Hi George. It’s not just some people getting annoyed because they think some others are behaving badly.The Director resigned, suddenly, right after securing a big increase in PoSoc’s ACE funding – at a time when other bodies have had their axed. Shortly thereafter, thePresident and two fficers resigned, followed by the Chair. No explanation has been given – in fact, no communication came from the PoSoc for SIX WEEKS, during which time staff were forbidden to speak to anyone, and an email from former Director Jules Mann and others, asking for info, was answered with dark warnings about libel.

    I work in corporate communications and have done crisis management and reputation management. The firs tprinciple os to fill the gap – tell people what’s going on, otherwise they’ll make it up, and the version they make up will never be what you want them to be thinking. That’s exactly what happened here, and the rumour mill kicked in, and it’s been really hard work for the people running the campaign for this EGM to drag people’s attention back to what the substantive issue is.

    The little that is known, regarding the Poetry Review editor asking to be managed directly by the Board, is in itself completely against principles of governance. This is public money. It’s also a membership organisation, whose mission is educational and enabling – so transparency and engagement are serious matters.

    It’s very far from being “a few people being annoyed.” The poetry world thrives on these “storm in teacup” moments and melodramatic feuds, etc. But turning this episode into one of those will not benefit members of recipients of OPoSoc educational activities – nor will it be respectful of the PoSoc’s staff, who work very hard for very little money – nor will it, in all likelihood, adhere to the requirements of ACE funding.

    Boards do not interfere in staffing issues. Boards do not do line management. I think that’s a good place to start from.

    The EGM is a necessary next step, enabling members en masse to require an explanation from their trustees – the board, who hold the society in trust. It’s important to ascertain that the place is being run well, and according to the right principles of governance.

    After that, if the mutterings of the mill are to be believed, there are discussions to be had regarding the future direction of the PoSoc, and also the remit and shape of the Poetry Review. But these discussions can’t even be had until the members have confidence in the board to be straight with them.

  4. msbaroque Says:

    Apologies for typos…


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