Sunday, 17 July 2011

Poetry Society: To Vote Or Not To Vote?

The situation at the Poetry Society has been baffling for many members due to too much information and too few facts being circulated. Like many people this started to put me off the idea of participating but I’ve realised this weekend how important it is to vote. Unless changes are made the Poetry Society risks losing the wonderful raise in Arts Council funding members were so pleased to hear had been awarded. It’s also clear that change is needed for reasons that go beyond the funding question.

This raise was secured by the Director Judith Palmer, who has since resigned, followed by other key people. Not surprisingly people want to know why, and petitioners have requested and been granted an EGM next Friday when they can ask questions and vote. If you can’t attend you can arrange a proxy.

I’m going to try to avoid what I feel has been the problem in the way this campaign has developed. We need to cut down to the simple facts that are known and provide a message to let people know what they’re voting for either on their own or by proxy.

Forget all the arguments, individual names, guesswork and gossip. This whole issue is about mismanagement and there are legal reasons why those in the know can’t give us the full facts. No doubt they will emerge. I asked to be given more facts before being able to decide how to vote or whether or not to appoint a proxy, but the unacceptable secrecy surrounding what has happened is actually enough of a fact to let me know what to do. Nobody can speak, because even if they leak facts they could be identified.

It’s as simple as this: the way forward is for the Board either to step down and let a temporary Board take over so as to restore trust in the members and ensure the Arts Council funding isn’t removed, or the current Board needs to change the way it works. This change would need to include openness about what has happened. This is what we’re voting for. If you can’t get to the meeting on Friday, then you can appoint a proxy.

The enforced secrecy even makes me unsure about what I can say here in case I cause legal problems for myself or anybody else, and that can’t be right. I had been put off the whole campaign by the diversions into personal criticisms of individuals and I think that has to stop. It can also feel to many members that the campaigners are people ‘in the know’, a clique discussing this with inside knowledge. All of this is offputting to the many members we need to reach out to and include. The Poetry Society is sending out clear, calm professional messages and the campaigners also need to stick to the clear message of what we’re voting for and why.

It’s quite telling that many people are asking the organisers of their own poetry groups what’s going on and what they’re supposed to be voting for. I wasn’t even sure earlier in the week. Those ‘in the know’ don’t realise that for many members the message really hasn’t got across, obscured by all the other discussions, rants and ramblings. Places like the Troubador are sending out emails to let poets know this vote is about mismanagement and not all the other imagined issues.

So I suggest setting all the gossip, rambling and criticisms of individuals aside, and I hope the campaigners will stick to a clear message. We need a new Board, or we need the Board to work in a different way. We need transparency and to be told what happened. I’m not sure if some of the people who resigned could be reinstated once we hear what happened, and there’s a feeling some of them should. That’s it.

To be a part of this you can email Kate Clanchy on for more information and ways to attend on Friday. You need to be a Poetry Society member. Alternatively you can arrange a proxy and need to do that by Tuesday. There’s also a blog set up with more details on
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