Friday, 22 July 2011

Counting: poets, butterflies

Poets first.  302 for, 69 against, 11 abstentions.  That was the vote on a motion of no confidence in the Poetry Society’s board, at the EGM this afternoon. 

The board had already said at the beginning of the meeting that they’d resign anyway – in time for a new board to take over at the AGM, which will be brought forward from November to the week of 12 September.  In the meantime, there will be a nomination-and-voting process to elect the new board, involving sending out papers, putting stuff on the PoSoc website, etc.  

The feeling of the meeting was, I think, that the board should resign now.  An expert on charity law sitting with the board said they couldn’t do this, but could co-opt 3 new members to fill current vacancies from now until the AGM.  The board will co-opt three out of four new members proposed by the floor: Cary Archard, founder of Seren Books, and former editor of Poetry Wales; Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library and Chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland; Professor Michael Schmidt, founder of PN Review and Carcanet Press (all requisitioners’ candidates); and also Edward Mackay, whose job I think is to do with conciliation.  (I was hoping Laurie Smith of Magma would be one of the names as he did an excellent job as the requisitioners’ procedural expert.)  Two current board members could have resigned, gracefully, on the spot to allow 5 instead of 3 new members.  This they all declined to do.

The board gave their version of events.  So did the finance manager who resigned in May, just after the director, but is still working out his notice.  You can read his account here, if you haven’t already.  It got a lot of applause.

There were lots of questions.  Emotions were running quite high on all sides, not least shock in the audience at what we were hearing, but it didn’t degenerate into a fight.  The acting chair fielded nearly all the questions, and was put under a lot of pressure.  The rest of the board mostly just sat there. The main conclusions to draw from the Q&A seemed to me to be:

The director of PoSoc and the editor of Poetry Review had had a dysfunctional relationship which, when it came to a head, the board had (as they moreorless admitted) handled very poorly, and not in accordance with good practice.  The board said they were now in discussion with the (ex-)director, but wouldn’t respond to questions about her possible reinstatement.

The board had spent £24.5k plus VAT on legal fees – I make that £29.4k – in anticipation that the director might sue, which the board said she had threatened, verbally, to do.  This constituted 20% of cash reserves.  The board wasn’t aware of other resources, like free / very cheap legal advice for voluntary bodies, and the option of ACAS was considered but not followed (not sure why). 

The board had been over-cautious in response to legal advice that they shouldn’t communicate what was going on. 

The Arts Council had concerns, which it communicated to the board in early June, about “governance, management, leadership, reputational risk and reasonable care”, and wanted these addressed before the next £78k tranche of its existing grant was paid out in early July.  It appears their concerns were not shared with the finance manager, or members who asked about it.  The finance manager said he’d been asked by the board yesterday about arranging an overdraft facility; and if the Betterton Street HQ had been valued recently.  The board didn’t really comment on this part of the finance manager’s story (unless I was wool-gathering at the time). 

I wonder whether the Arts Council will hand over the grant now, or hold off until September, and if the latter, how long the Society can carry on.

That’s enough of that.  I’ve written this very fast and left out lots of stuff that was interesting but, I thought, less important.  The minutes will be published.  I’d guess that most people left the meeting feeling much better informed, but also very concerned.  The requisitioners, anyway; there were few interventions in support of the board, so we didn’t really hear from the people who voted against the no confidence vote.  

Holly Blue (
Butterflies...  1 Holly Blue, 1 Small White and 1 Gatekeeper visited my garden in a 15-minute period a few days ago.  I love Blues, it’s as if a small piece of sky has come down, even though they’re not sky blue.  And Gatekeepers are so flamboyant but also decorous, in their eyeleted orange with a brown border. 

I’m going to count more butterflies this weekend as part of the Big Butterfly Count.  You can spend 15 minutes counting in any one place, and then contribute to a butterfly map of Britain and Ireland, a shimmering spread of wings…  A useful as well as beautiful thing to do, and easier than writing a poem, arguing about the Poetry Society or sorting out the Euro. 

Gatekeeper (


  1. A petition to restore the Poetry Society has just been launched… You can read it, and sign it, at the link at the end of the post above this one ("Two scoops of John Ashbery" etc)

  2. In case you haven't seen them yet, there are two statements by the (ex-) director of the Poetry Society, Judith Palmer, at
    They are worth reading.