Letter from the Director - Summer 2004

Jules Mann

Over the past six months my colleagues and I have had many meetings and phone conversations with members (both new and old) of the Poetry Society. The Council of the Poetry Society had proposed quite a few changes to our existing Memorandum & Articles and a fair few of you came forward to present the case for the importance of retaining the membership structure which has been in place since the Poetry Society incorporated in 1923. We had a decent turnout for the Extraordinary General Meeting in March – not like the old days where the roster spilled over several pages, but lively participation made up for it. Following the results of the postal ballot that was called at the March EGM (52% voted to approve the new version, 48% voted against) it's obvious that Poetry Society members would prefer to preserve the current membership structure.


We do hope to make some of the mechanics of participating more fully in the Poetry Society easier for you, if the new version of the Memorandum & Articles is approved this year. Many of you asked why you couldn't vote by proxy or email. That is not allowed in our existing governing document, but will be up for discussion in the new version. Likewise, we don't normally distribute a list of candidates nominated for the Council beforehand, but would like to institute this as good practice so you will notice on the back page of this issue of Poetry News an announcement of this year's Annual General Meeting and a call for nominations to the Council. Even though you will still be unable to vote unless you attend this year's AGM in person, we do intend to get the list of candidates out to you in the autumn mailing so you at least know who is up for the available seats. We've now conducted a skills audit of our existing Council members, and would like to encourage future nominations of candidates who, in addition to knowledge of poetry, would be of particular assistance in one or more of the following areas: Education, Information Technology, Legal issues, Links to young writers / young audiences and Membership Development.


And now for a brief round-up of other poetry in the news. Just in time to test his mettle with the Euro Cup, we got Football's first Chant Laureate, Wanstead's Jonny Hurst. Andrew Motion applauded this genre which perhaps until now was never known as "folk poetry". Keep your ears open for more eloquent chants emanating from your nearest Premiership stadium.


Next Generation Poets, of course, hit the headlines in early June. Events featuring each of the twenty poets will be held around the UK this year. The difference between this campaign and the one that Poetry Review was involved in ten years ago is that rather than a collection of bright young poets (under 40s only), this is primarily a reading campaign to introduce twenty "exhilarating" voices of the past ten years – they had to have published their first collection between 1994 and 2004, and indeed the gathering merits a trip to the local bookshop to discover some talented poets of all ages who may not yet be household names – although some are. Alternatively, of course, visit your local library or browse the Poetry Book Society's website.


We're pleased about the momentum so far of National Poetry Day, which is of course to be celebrated as Poetry Week by many schools and libraries from 4 October, culminating in National Poetry Day on Thursday, 7 October. From the response so far to the theme of 'Food', I think we need at least a week to be able to fit everything in! From the Good Food Guide to the National Farmers Retail and Markets Association, some interesting organisations are pricking up their ears about the potential for poetry to commingle with food. Stay tuned, and be sure to visit our website where all sorts of information will be available from July to October.


I'd like to draw your attention to a separate letter included with this mailing, from an organisation called Speak-a-Poem. They have an excellent programme of regional workshops around the country run by practising poets, readers and teachers, open to anyone with an interest in reading poetry aloud. They're particularly interested in involving members of the Poetry Society, so if this is of interest please do contact them for more information about their programmes and events, and/or visit their website at www.speak-a-poem.co.uk.


And finally, some poets we are very sorry to say have died in the past six months: Carl Rakosi, considered to be among the core group of "Objectivist" poets and published in the UK by Etruscan books); Dom Moraes (first non-English poet to win the Hawthornden Prize for literature, whose Collected Poems is published by Penguin India); Thom Gunn, poet and critic; Ian Robinson, poet, editor and publisher (Oasis); and Gael Turnball, born in Edinburgh but known as an unterritorial as well as an internationalist poet. If any members of the Poetry Society have an interest in contributing obituaries they have written for poets we've lost in the past few years, we would be willing to create a special section for them on our website, and note them in Poetry News so printed versions may be requested by members.


Late breaking news: you can read more commentary about it in the Editorial from the summer issue of Poetry Review, but if you are interested in the cultural policy of this country, do read Tessa Jowell's essay entitled "Government and the Value of Culture". Web users can find it at www.culture.gov.uk in the DCMS website's Publications/ Archive 2004 section, or email [email protected] for a copy. Alternatively, phone 020 7211 6200 or write Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DH. It is an invitation for discussion and debate, which we will be following with interest.