Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Should I Stand for the Board of the Poetry Society?

I've been in conversation with various poets behind the scenes about standing for the Board of Trustees for the Poetry Society.

I'm not sure this would be the right thing to do, not least because it's a huge commitment, and I am already heavily committed to my writing for the next few years.

However, it was suggested that not enough people who are active poets are standing, and this was enough to make me feel I should. I don't feel comfortable with the idea that the entire Board of the Poetry Society should be made up of lawyers, accountants, and corporate types who also serve on other Society Boards. The ones I saw on the retiring - technically sacked - Board of Trustees at the EGM seemed to me quite scornful of poets, one describing us afterwards as mad. People who have sympathy with poets ought to stand, as the Poetry Society site makes clear, stating on its page for Trustee candidates: "A demonstrable interest in all aspects of poetry, including written, studied, spoken, electronic and performance is essential."

Although I've announced that I'm standing, and have two nominations from other members - I need a third, otherwise this is all academic - I haven't yet made a definitive decision. Since deciding to stand, Kona Macphee, who describes herself as an 'Australian-bred poet', has joined Polly Clark as a poet standing for the Board. I'm not sure now that I am particularly needed, in light of that, but it's hard when I have only sketchy information about how many are standing altogether, and how many are active poets.

Here's my statement:
I’m a poet, novelist and former editor with a strong knowledge of grass-roots poetry, especially performance and independent poetry presses.

I received an Eric Gregory Award in 1996, have been Warwick Poet Laureate, and have published three full-length collections of poetry, one with Bloodaxe and two with Salt Publishing. I edited a poetry magazine in the nineties, and more recently was Editor of Horizon Review. I have also been a commissioning editor for Salt Publishing, both for poetry and fiction.

I currently write commercial historical fiction for Transworld as Victoria Lamb, plus Young Adult fiction for Random House from 2012. I have a professional knowledge of what it takes to work in the arts as a practitioner, while my experience as an editor has allowed me to understand the practicalities of making that work public.

I have tutored for the Arvon Foundation, taught poetry and creative writing to adults and children over the past fifteen years, and have sat on arts committees as a specialist. My main aim in standing is to ensure we balance out a board of arts-friendly professionals from other walks of life with serious, long-term practitioners of the art.

There's also an interesting piece just published in the New Statesman by Daniel Barrow which discusses the current situation, quoting various poets, including Polly Clark and Tom Chivers, and indeed myself. It sums up how I feel about the direction the Poetry Society ought to be taking:
"I would be glad to see a return to a more inclusive programme at the Poetry Society, and by that I don't necessarily mean 'anyone who writes poetry' but a better understanding and sympathy for the aims and achievements of the small presses, including smaller magazines." .... A re-engagement between the small presses and grassroots groups and the Society is necessary: "it's about time we returned to a position of cheerful amateurism".
If another poet stands between now and the deadline on Thursday, I shall probably not bother putting in my nomination form. My only wish here is to serve the Poetry Society by ensuring there is a balance on the Board between poets and corporate professionals brought in for their expertise in other areas. If enough poets are already standing, I see no reason why I should also stand. I may be better placed to serve the Society in other ways.

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