Letter from the Director

Christina Patterson

 

Last summer I chaired a discussion at the Ledbury Poetry Festival on 'Poetry and New Technologies'. The general feeling was that new technologies offered massive opportunities, but also had their limitations. At the time I had no idea just how big these could be. On Thursday 14 March we logged on to our computers and discovered that our website had disappeared. Where before there were hundreds of pages of information about what's happening in contemporary poetry and about the Poetry Society's publications, projects, events and work with schools, we found instead a whole new world of online gambling, products for poor skin and hair loss, "amazing financial services" and corporate gifts.

 

We had just mailed every school in London to invite them to take part in a poetry slam, and had just printed 32,000 leaflets for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. People looking for more information about the Poetry Society's activities and projects were, instead, discovering an eclectic range of unpoetic products. Our emails, we swiftly realised, were disappearing into a big, black hole and were not being replied to or returned.

 

It soon emerged that there had been a problem with the renewal of our domain name. I think none of us realised what an endlessly complicated world this is. It's a bit like having to register your car in Serbo-Croat on Mars and suddenly discovering that your licence has expired, no-one has sent you any reminders and your car now belongs to someone else. I could now give boring lectures on the subject, but will, instead, sum the lesson up as follows: Do not trust your Internet Service Provider to renew your domain name! Make sure that the renewal details are engraved on your minds, hearts and computers! We spent five years building up our award-winning website, which was getting more than 300,000 hits a month. It was devastating to see it disappear because of an administrative error.

 

A company called Ultimate Search, based in Hong Kong, bought the domain name, poetrysoc.com, and added it to their large and eclectic portfolio. They did not reply to our emails or phone-calls. The fortnight that followed was among the most difficult we have, as an organisation, experienced. We registered a new domain name, www.poetrysociety.org.uk , and set about the gargantuan task of letting the world know about the changes. Jules Mann, our wonderful web editor, changed and re-uploaded more than 400 website pages. We reprinted the leaflets for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and started writing to everyone we knew. We got lawyers on the case and there was a flurry of press activity, with pieces in the Guardian's news, books and online pages, the Observer's books pages and on the Reuters, Yahoo and BBC news sites. We even heard from Jules's mother that the news had hit the San Francisco Chronicle!

 

This story has a happy ending. On 26 March we heard from lawyer Jane Mutimear at Bird & Bird, that Ultimate Search had agreed to transfer the domain name back to us at no charge. We'll stick with the new address, www.poetrysociety.org.uk, but people going to www.poetrysoc.com will still be able to find us. At both addresses, we'll continue to keep you up to date with what's happening in the poetry world. Our apologies to all our members for any incovenience you've been caused.

 

News from the Poetry Society

 

The disappearance of www.poetrysoc.com more or less coincided with the departure of Peter Forbes from Poetry Review. The latter is a much bigger loss. Our website has been going for a mere five years, whereas Peter has been at the helm of Britain's leading poetry magazine for a record-breaking sixteen.

 

Throughout that time, he has embraced a fantastically broad range of poetry activity, publishing work by new and established poets and tirelessly seeking out, and nurturing, new talent. The poetry world is famously faction-ridden, but it is a testament to Peter's fair and open-minded approach that he is not associated with any one of these. He has achieved the near-impossible feat of producing, month after month, year after year, a magazine that feels friendly, accessible and wide-ranging, but which also retains its critical edge.

 

On a more personal note, Peter Forbes has remained a consistently calm and warm presence at the Poetry Society, through changes of buildings, directors and staff. His knowledge and expertise have been invaluable, alongside rare enthusiasm and realistic good sense.

 

When I took over as director in March 2000, I couldn't have asked for a more supportive colleague to steer me through the complexities of an organisation with more than a few quirks. We will all miss him very much. We wish him all the best in a freelance future of writing and editing and I know he joins us in wishing the new editors, Robert Potts and David Herd, a happy and fruitful time at Poetry Review.

 

Poetry News, Spring 2002