Letter from the Director: Spring 2003 

Jules Mann  

What does the Director of the Poetry Society actually do? Well, this you should have gleaned over the past few years from the scintillating letters written in these pages by Christina Patterson, who (as of January this year) is now Deputy Literary Editor at the Independent. The position of Director was offered to a promising candidate following interviews in late December, but arrangements fell through for personal reasons and we are in the process of interviewing again at the time this article goes to press. Meanwhile, my ten years' experience of consulting for arts organisations in strategic development helped assure the Council that we could carry on in the meantime without undue concern for the health and safety of the Society. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that every person who works here has been brilliant in every aspect – without that it would have been much more daunting to be Acting Director, especially following in Christina's footsteps. I'd like to thank all the staff, as well as those who have offered me support and timely advice every step along the way.


During the last quarter of our financial year we concentrate heavily on budgets (sounds glamorous already, doesn't it?), wrapping up current projects and forecasting for next year. This is also the time when project funding becomes crucial and I'm delighted to report that the Poetry Society has received several grants over the past few months. A generous grant was received this week from the Baring Foundation to support our core costs in education. The new London-based Moose Foundation for the Arts recently awarded us a grant for several poets to do four week-long residencies in four City schools, as part of our Poet in the City partnership. You can read more about The Moose Foundation for the Arts and their innovative funding vision at www.moosefoundation.org.uk.


The Foyle Foundation generously awarded a second year of funding for our Young Poets of the Year Award. I was lucky enough to spend some time up at Arvon Lumb Bank Centre in February with last year's winners, who came up with some very strange and exciting material in the daily writing workshops. Strangeness was encouraged, as tutors Matthew Sweeney and Jean Sprackland assigned writing exercises such as 'interview an inanimate object', and 'reverse a law of nature'. Please do tell any young writers you know to enter this competition – it's a fantastic opportunity for the top fifteen winners to create their own writing community. And you know where that may lead (n-n-new Generation!). Photos of the Arvon residency are posted on our website, as well as guidelines for the 2003 Award.


Respect! You can read more about it here, but I'd like to just say that the annual respect slam! 2003 is happening.


In the last issue we mentioned the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation – a call for entries has now been launched. One welcome ripple effect is that the Poetry Society has connected or re-connected with the many excellent publishers, poets, magazines and writers' organisations across Europe who will be submitting or spreading the word about this prize. It is extremely satisfying for the Poetry Society to once again have an opportunity to recognise the work of translators, who allow us the privilege of experiencing the voices of so many talented contemporary poets writing outside the English language. This prize is sponsored by the Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation.


And speaking of prizes, our own National Poetry Competition winners will have been announced by the time this reaches you. The enforced secrecy since winners were notified at the end of January is most difficult because of having to suppress any delight about their success, especially if you're in the same room with them! This year we're pleased to be able to feature a triple-bill reading by the winners in our Studio Poetry series on 22 May.


As a member of the Poetry Society, I hope you have discovered the "Special Offers to our Members" posted up on the members' page of our website. Do check in frequently for special offers or phone our Membership Manager, Carl Dhiman, directly at 020 7420 9881.


So, from January to April my role at the Society has encompassed everything from proposal writing to budget management to regular meetings with staff on their particular projects/challenges/successes… and yes, invitations to launches and parties are a nice fringe benefit, but we've all shouldered the responsibility for attending those.


This letter would not be complete without mentioning world events; in these times of war poetry provides a vital means of expressing and sharing feelings around such a highly emotive issue. From the timely books recently issued by Salt Publishing and by Faber and Faber (not to mention many more published outside the UK) to the masses of internet postings, poetry is the art form people are turning to – whether it's palliative, empowering, or just a means of meditating on the human condition.


Since this letter went to press, Jules Mann was appointed Director of the Poetry Society.

Poetry News, spring 2003