Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Board ‘coup’ leads to chaos in poets’ corner

London Evening Standard - 07 June 2011 3:27 PM

Is there anything so vicious as a fight in the literary world?

The Poetry Society has just lost its director Judith Palmer, who resigned after what has been termed “an internal coup”, and the financial officer Paul Ranford has also departed, leaving no one to sign the cheques.According to sources, it is 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. Sampson has also persuaded some members of the board, including Alan Jenkins, to back her. Palmer reluctantly handed in her resignation two week ago, with Ranford following shortly afterwards.

The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 by Lady Margaret Sackville and the magazine has counted Dame Muriel Spark and Sir  Andrew Motion among  its editors. It also runs the Poetry Café in Covent Garden and the National Poetry competition (winners have included Helen Dunmore and Ruth Padel). There have been howls of protests from members who suggest that promoting well-known poets departs from the Poetry Society’s stated mission “to advance public education in the study, enjoyment and use of poetry”.
The society gets around £260,000 from Arts Council England, due to rise to £360,000 next year, for “the welfare of poets and poetry”.

The Poetry Society confirmed that both Palmer and Ranford have left, but would not comment further. “There is likely to be an extraordinary general meeting of members to try to resolve issues,” says one member, who declines to be named. “Many of us feel a necessary step would be the resignation of the board and the editor who prompted much of this dire situation.”

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