Much of the ensuing controversy has been connected to a lack of clarity from the Society following these events. The resignations have been made public, yes. But members of the Society have not been given any clear explanation for why these resignations occurred, nor been allowed any official discussion of how we move forward as a Society. It seems a reasonable request for full disclosure to be granted to the membership if these resignations are in any way connected.
The Evening Standard came up with some further information, but no more than was already privately circulating between members.
Some bloggers and other commentators are now starting to discuss the matter, but timidly, most not wishing to find themselves sidelined later for having been one of 'the hardy few', as Ms Baroque puts it, who dared discuss the matter. A recent post went up at Carrie Etter's blog and was removed after a torrent of libellous comments appeared, the debate unceremoniously erased.
Now people are beginning to draw comparisons between recent events and the Poetry Wars of the 1970s, when barricades were manned at the old Po Soc HQ and poets huddled about the braziers for six long years, warming their hands on copies of each other's Selected Works.
The Evening Standard claims that all this furore has come about because "Fiona Sampson, editor of the Poetry Review, the magazine overseen by the Society, had asked for autonomy from the director, and has been pushing the focus of the society from education to promoting high-profile poets."
I have known Fiona Sampson a number of years. She is a fine editor with excellent and pleasingly eclectic tastes in poetry. Far from being elitist, as has been suggested, she has featured both well-known and small press poets in most issues, and has encouraged greater depth in poetry criticism by commissioning long critical essays for the magazine. (A bold move, even if not all those essays turned out to be equally gripping and apposite.) Whatever has gone on behind closed doors, I feel certain Fiona Sampson will have acted with the best interests of Poetry Review at heart, and that she does not deserve the vitriol that has been aimed at her in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, of course, Poetry Review is the flagship magazine of the Poetry Society. As such, it needs to fulfil quite a broad range of objectives, only one of which is to promote high-profile poets.
In light of all this, I urge members of the Poetry Society to lend their names to the call for an Emergency General Meeting, to discuss these recent events and forge a way forward for the Board and the Membership.
The reason I ask this is that we are currently experiencing a crisis in confidence among the more professionally active members of the Society, and that crisis must be addressed, not simply ignored.
I also ask that, until we have the full facts before us, critics of the Board and the editor of Poetry Review behave in a civilised manner. There is something deeply unpleasant about the sight of an angry mob hounding one individual above all others.
Apathy gives us the government we deserve. But at least members are being given the opportunity to step up and voice their dissatisfaction. But we can't do that without 340 names.
Will yours be one of them?
To Get Involved:
Anyone who is a member of the Poetry Society and would like to sign the following petition, please email Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll put you on the list. She will not share your contact or publicise you until the list reaches 340 when it will be handed in to the Poetry Society, along with the following message:
We, the undersigned, constituting as we believe ten percent of the members of the Poetry Society, having learnt of the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the Director, the Finance Manager and the President of the Society, and in order to determine whether the Board of Trustees has their continuing confidence, require the Board to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting to provide an explanation, in the transparent and accountable manner the members expect of its elected representatives, of the events leading to these resignations; an independently chaired forum for the statements of members and for their questions; and a detailed account of how the Board will continue the business of the Society in accordance with its stated aims and purposes.
Latest Update: more information at the Guardian. The list of signatories currently stands at 323, as of 2pm Thursday 30th June 2011.