At first I chortled…

July 29, 2011

…then I gasped in disbelief, and finally I groaned in despair.

The undignified Poetry Society fracas continues, and the outgoing director has issued a statement giving her side of the argument. God knows if it’s the whole truth of the matter – the Board seem to have found her a prickly woman to deal with.

But the detail that aroused my chain of emotions was this: as well as wasting £24,000 of their members’ money  on legal bills over this business, the Poetry Society have also spent £3000 on PR in the hope of limiting damage to their reputation. Well, that certainly worked…

The point is – didn’t they have access to anyone nearer to hand who had some skill with words suitable for putting their case across? A poet, perhaps?

Back in the eighteenth century any politico with an axe to grind would have chucked a few quid at a Grub Street hack, who would then  produce a few stinging and scurrilous couplets. The repetition of these around the coffee-houses would with luck reduce the politico’s enemy to the status of a laughing-stock. That’s what I call PR work.

Are modern poets not up to the job? Can they only produce mournful meditations on mutability, or Prynnish demonstrations of the fractiousness of language? It’s a deeply depressing thought that  when something needed to be said, PR men were brought in, at great expense, to fail miserably.

But then I’ve always been sceptical about PR. (If it works, why does the PR industry have such an appalling image?) Yet many who should know better keep flinging money at people who promise to improve their PR. In the other (even funnier) real-life comedy that is filling British headlines at the moment, it transpires that the Metropolitan Police hired Neil Wallis, a dodgy ex-News of the World man with connections to the hacking scandal, at £1000 a day to help with PR.  For twenty-four days.  And what on earth did he achieve for the money?

I think how that £24,000 could have funded a neighbourhood bobby in Peckham. I think of how the Poetry Society’s £3000 could have been used to subsidise a publishing firm that was actually doing something for poetry. I despair.

P.S. Another link between the PoSoc fiasco and the hacking scandal: the Society’s  solicitors of choice were none other than the reassuringly expensive Harbottle and Lewis, the firm that greasily helped out  News International in its cover-up of wrongdoing.


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