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


  1. Dear Adele,

    Thanks for posting this, and for including the link. I hope your readers will find some straightforward facts on our site.

    I'd also like to say that until a week or so ago, I was even more of an outsider to the UK poetry scene than most other members. I came over from Hong Kong about a year ago - and until last week I had no idea about any of the issues, personalities or politics of the Poetry Society.

    Like everyone else, I was baffled and appalled to find that something catastrophic - we knew not what - had happened at the Poetry Society. I know a lot more now, because I offered to help Kate by setting up the website. Until very recently, though, I didn't know her either, and to date we've never met. So it's absolutely not a cabal of connected insiders rocking the boat.

    This IS a very grass-roots movement, and it has the proper management of the Poetry Society at its heart. The vast majority of us are just ordinary members and we want to know what's going on. That's it.

    All the best,


  2. Dear Adele,

    Your points make a lot of sense. There HAS been a lot of confusion. However, it HAS been verified that Judith Palmer has NOT initiated a legal case against the Society so there is no reason the circumstances of her departure can't be discussed or revealed. Unless you mean ANOTHER legal case?

    Perhaps you mean legal issues of staff disregarding the orders not to talk on these and related issues, but Fiona Sampson just did, so I assume that others are likewise freed. I'm greatly concerned that the hiring of an outside agency for the Q and A essentially absolves the Board from having to answer themselves.

    Regardless, the Board should step down, surely. Too much has happened on mismanagement side.

  3. I do mean the legal issues affecting staff as they are not to talk about this. This means that we can't be given all the facts we need. I asked for facts during the week and the answer I was given was that Poetry Society staff can't talk about it, and it's even hard to leak information as they could be identified.

    Somebody said Fiona wasn't actually Poetry Society staff so that would make it different for her.

    I agree that even with the few facts we can be sure of we can see that the Board needs to step down.

  4. Martin - I agree that this is for everyone and not just for a clique. I wanted to draw attention to the risk of sounding like a clique if the campaign has too much gossip, arguing and criticism of named individuals. It will really help the campaign if it's pared down to the information people really need to know in order to make a decision. A lot of people have found it hard to work out what the main point of the meeting is as it has been buried beneath an information overload containing guesswork, assumptions, misinterpretations, twisting of words and some quite insulting comments. Most people don't want to see personal insults. Things have improved with not so many emails coming to us, and some of the emails were offputting as the discussion was being dragged down into something very gossipy.

  5. Fiona Sampson is listed as 'staff' on the Poetry Society's own website:

    Janet Fisher

  6. I thought she was staff. If someone at Poetry Society described her as NOT staff and therefore free to speak as other staff members are not, this is one question for the meeting surely.

  7. It wasn't somebody at the Poetry Society, but was said in a discussion online. The question was raised about whether or not Fiona should have used email lists to send her message to people as the Data Protection Act would forbid it for Poetry Review or Poetry Society lists. In fact I don't think she did use these lists as I didn't get the email direct from her but only saw it as it was forwarded. So she must have sent it to her personal email list and in it she asks for it to be forwarded. Whether or not a person can give information would depend on whether or not it's being permitted by the Poetry Society as they are the ones taking protective action and lawyers are involved so we all feel more than a little cautious. If confidentiality is being protected with the risk of disciplinary action then it would be possible to give some information for some people, without that meaning others are 'freed' up to do the same as suggested by Eva's post.

  8. I'm starting to sound like George Orwell's 1984!

  9. There's a great FAQ page which makes the point of the campaign clear on


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