Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Chaos at the Poetry Society

I’ve been following the news from the Poetry Society, the little that has emerged in the past couple of weeks, with a degree of confusion. I’m not a member and I don’t suppose what happens makes any difference to me personally, but it nevertheless is becoming a genuine concern.

A week or two ago, the director of the Poetry Society, Judith Palmer, resigned. The story I heard was that she and some members of the board were pulling in different directions as regards administrative structure. This didn’t quite ring true. Directors don’t resign just because of disagreements over structure. But the board and staff were asked to observe confidentiality and so little accurate news emerged.

I do see the point in this, unlike some others who want everything aired in public. People on a board have to feel secure in speaking their mind on difficult issues while knowing what they say in private isn't going to be broadcast all over Facebook ten minutes later. But secrecy only works if nothing gets out. The minute people begin to leak hints and whisper slanted stories and Facebook threads become viral and rumours of rumours spread by word of mouth, email and on social networking sites, it becomes important to make some kind of statement. Not a bland statement which says nothing, but a statement which accurately and as fairly as possible tells the story, without attributing private opinions.

If that doesn’t happen, you get stories like this one from the Evening Standard appearing. It sounds bad. It makes accusations that the board (and one person in particular) wanted to change the Poetry Society’s focus. If this is true, I imagine it will go down extremely badly with the rank and file members of the society. The article also carries a call from an unnamed source for an EGM to ask for the board’s resignation.

The only problem is that this story comes from the Evening Standard. It may be true, it may not be true. It may be sensationalising gossip, it may be bitterness. It may have hit the nail on the head or it may be someone throwing a few darts and missing the board (apologies for the pun) by miles. Who knows? I’m only amazed that so many intelligent people on Facebook seem ready and willing to trust a British rag without question!

On the other hand, this does once again reveal clearly the urgent need for an accurate and fair statement on the situation from the Poetry Society, with input from the factions on both sides. If a statement doesn’t come, then members and interested onlookers can form their opinions only by what they read in the tabloids and on Facebook. They have nothing else to go on, and it makes the Poetry Society look as if they are being secretive, doing something improper, and adds fuel to the fire this newspaper article is obviously delighted to fan.

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