Board Coup Leads to Chaos in Poets Corner

Board coup leads to chaos in poets corner proclaims the London evening standard’s diary on June 7th. But much of their article is factually incorrect. It says 'The poetry society has just lost it's 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.'

And this much is true: Other workers have chosen to leave in less declamatory ways. Are they resignations in all but name? Maybe these less explosive yet no less important flights signify the true reason behind problems at the poetry society. The cowardly article continues and attempts to accuse

“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. “

The Poetry Review editor is employed by The board not the director of The Poetry Society so it is natural for Sampson to report to the board as she has done for most of her time as editor. Of the second part of the paragraph I asked Sampson if she really was pushing the focus of the society towards published poets.

“Bringing on new poets is something we specially pride ourselves on. Our annual Geoffrey Dearmer prize is awarded to the best poem by someone who didn't yet have a book at the time we published them.” Sampson says “The number of poets eligible has risen each year during my editorship.” She continued

“These emerging poets, without a first book (this criterion's appropriate for page poets, but that's by definition largely whom we exist to publish!), made up 17% of the poets the Review published this year: the highest proportion for at least a quarter century. And emerging poets/writers (again, without a first book) made up 24% of the reviewers in 2010, too.”

The facts contradict the source of the London Evening Standard article. Still in context with other publications was Poetry Review ignoring new writers in favour of published poets? Sampson responded “these figures are substantially higher than for our equivalent world-class magazines: Poetry (Chicago) and American Poetry Review. They're proof of the importance of having a specialist editor who is able to actually read all the work submitted and consider it on its own merits, rather than simply responding to “word of mouth” or reputation.”

But The London evening Standard diary hasn't finished “Palmer reluctantly handed in her resignation two weeks ago, with Ranford following shortly afterwards. There have been howls of protest 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' Still the standard bludgeons Sampson. 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”

Fiona Sampson is being strung out to dry from an unnamed source, from one who declines to be named. Her statistics come from Poetry Reviews official figures prepared for internal and Arts Council England purposes and are in the public domain. I expect more from my newspaper. But even if the entire article were factually correct – which it clearly isn’t – are we really to believe that the entire poetry society (over one hundred years old) is in melt down because one freelance editor who works a few days a week for a quarterly magazine is promoting well known poets. Give me a break. Maybe the journalist who fed the story to The London Evening Standard diary is so close to his source that he forgot to check his facts. Shame. Shame. because beneath this irksome scurrilous factually incorrect article is a story that has nothing to do with Sampson whatsoever.

CORRECTION: 28th June 2011 Fiona Sampson is an employee of The Poetry Society, not freelance as stated in the article.


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