Saturday, 2 July 2011
Caesar's Wife and Elvis Wander Betterton Street.
I have been quiet for a while as things to do and the amount of time available seem to have somehow got out of sync and an hour for Peter has been robbed to pay Paul and the blog got well and truly mugged. So I make up for that now by assuring you dear reader that I may be gone but you have not been forgotten entirely.
Of course the buzz in the poetry world at the moment or in small parts of it at least is about The Poetry Society and what is transpiring there. What is truly transpiring I have no idea, one can simply go on the facts; The Chairman of the board Peter Carpenter has resigned, the president Jo Shapcott has resigned, the Finance Officer Paul Ranford and the Director Judith Palmer have also resigned. No one at the Poetry Society has clearly stated why there has been a spate of resignation leaving it to blogs, Facebook and general gossip to make the rounds all of which contains some clear facts, some innuendo, some considered speculation and some wild allegations. Some has been anonymous; some from those well placed to know what is going on, although those two groups are not mutually exclusive.
Kate Clanchy is organising a petition to call for an EGM to address the concerns Poetry Society Members have and the Society itself has announced a meeting on the 22nd July to address the way forward and future plans for the Society. There is a big Arts Council grant at stake here, although it is doubtful if that will just disappear in a puff of smoke should the furore become even more public and vitriolic. However public funds for poetry have been slashed in other areas, so the Arts Council will want to know that they are not casting their bread upon decidedly choppy if not stormy waters.
I left the Poetry Society last year to join English Pen, which fights for the rights of writers, journalists and poets who are in countries where free speech is a very precious commodity. I would have liked to have remained a member but I couldn’t afford both. However I am a tax payer so as such I do have a stake in how public funds are spent. I would be suspicious of money being poured into any organisation, particularly one that is also a registered Charity where key figures have resigned, there is obvious unrest amongst members and the board is doing a heavy spin on lets look to the future rather than past events. If a public company acted like that I would not be comfortable about my widow’s mite going into their coffers without some public, reasonable debate in which I could hear all sides of the situations and place the flurry of resignations in context.If someone rattled a charity tin in front of me and I knew the charity was experiencing such difficulties then I would think twice before dropping a coin into the box.
It may be that everything comes down to personality clashes, it may come down to a clash of deeply held opposing views about how the Poetry Society should promote poetry, it may be due to genuine misunderstandings, it may be down to some kind of power struggle between various factions. It is probably a mix of all of these yet none of these reasons is beyond debate, especially in a publicly funded charity.
There may well be a clear divide about certain things but the trustees have to be seen to be even-handed and part of the facilitation of a solution rather than the source of the problem. The very name trustee implies a person in which we have full trust.No one will ever agree how £360,000 pounds can best be spent to encourage and support poetry in the UK. However the Arts Council by its actions in supporting The Poetry Society to this financial extent whilst closing the door in the face of other poetry organisations have clearly made a statement about the best use of the public purse. Those negotiations as far as I know have not yet been completed and I will want to know what questions the Arts Council have asked the Poetry Society about their organisation, the management, the board and the cohesive support they have for their current state of being, let alone their future plans. The money is obviously being given on the basis of specific goals they intend to achieve and have put in writing; anything else would be a reckless use of public money. What assurances can the board and the management give to the Arts Council that they are in a position to put in place strategies to achieve those goals with the support of the majority of its members and its current team (two of which, Board Chairman and Director are only temporary placements). They may be very well placed, they may not but they have to be seen to be at least striving to be in that place.
I have been a public activist all my life, I have a stake in society and in any government that seeks to run it. I vote at all levels of government and encourage others to do so. Whether or not I am a member of the Poetry Society is irrelevant, I still have a stake in any organisation or charity which seeks public funding by the democratically elected government. I expect such organisations to be as open and transparent as I would wish my government to be. That is not always possible, the law sometimes is used to protect those who might be harmed by such transparency but there has to be a very good reason why the behaviour and views of people in a publicly funded organisation is not accountable to the public as well as its members and to the trustees. I would hope that reasons for people’s resignation are clearly stated and are open and honest. It may be that their view of a situation is at odds with other views but any organisation should be robust and healthy enough to withstand even the harshest of critics and be able to counter the arguments with measured and clear ripostes Such good reasons for this not happening may well exist, they may not. I cannot believe poetry needs to go down the Murdoch and Gigg’s road of gagging but if it does then it should state clearly why it does and if it does.
There may be an element that believe that today’s news is tomorrows chip-paper and that simply keeping a dignified silence will eventually lead to the situation returning to a relative normal and business as usual status. An EGM or a GM may well not bring forth a solution it may even inflame the situation, if not handled well, but I hope the Arts Council are keeping a close eye on events and attending those meetings because other Arts and Poetry organisations have lost out spectacularly to keep HMS Poetry Society afloat and if the ship is actually holed below the water line and slowly sinking under the weight of either apathy or gainsayers to its current policies and management styles then I for one would withhold any payment until the situation is clearer and as a tax payer I shall be writing to the Chair of the Arts Council to that effect. This may well cause hardship and pain now but other organisations in the Arts have had to face such times and I don’t think The Poetry Society should be immune from the same sort of close scrutiny other organisations have had to bear. Woolly goals such as promoting and supporting poetry and poets can avoid the question of the way something is done. The ethos of clear, decisive and fair management and substantial support from the board and members has to be seen to be in operation. Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion but has to be seen to be so.The Poetry Society has done some amazingly good things for poetry and poets and I hope it continues to do so in a way that all can support whole heartedly, if not that, then in a way the majority can embrace whole heartedly, that's the way it goes in a democratic society. Poetry will survive come what may, I think it is not a delicate flower , more a spectacular beautiful tenacious weed that can grow out of street pavements and on wastelands but lets not get to a situation when the poetry gets trampled under foot in the wrangling for what is best for it.
And here is a bit of music to end on from the king that might be appropriate
Let’s hope it all doesn’t all end up like this.