Letter from the Director - Winter 2005/6

Jules Mann

as printed in the Winter 2005/6 issue of Poetry News

Happy New Year! If I were asked to describe 2005 in a nutshell, I'd say we significantly deepened our relationships with poets and literature-based organisations around the UK. We made new associations with London Review Bookshop, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Academi in Wales, and St Giles-in-the-Fields for Poetry Society events. For National Poetry Day we worked with numerous partners in every region of the UK and enjoyed more press coverage than ever (did you happen to catch Jeremy Paxman at the end of Newsnight introducing Adrian Mitchell, who read his poem 'Human Beings'? Or the poetry interludes all day long on CBeebies?). 2005 was the year the Poetry Stanzas were born – we put the idea out, and you responded!

Our year-round education work puts poets into schools 250 days out of the year. We were also thrilled to receive an increase in support for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award by the Foyle Foundation this year, who recognise this as the benchmark literary prize for young writers. During summer 2005 we helped over 100 young performance poets in London brave the stage to participate in the annual 'rise slam' spoken word competition (funded by the DfES and the Greater London Authority). I'm delighted to report that the Big Lottery Fund has just awarded a generous two-year grant to support this project in 2006 and 2007.

As part of its new constitution, the Poetry Society has elected a new President and twelve Vice Presidents; we're delighted to welcome them during the exciting three years ahead. Speaking of three years, the Poetry Society is now working to a strategic plan, in which we articulate the direction of each of our programmes and any related projects, and what we would like to achieve each year artistically and/or financially. This gives our Trustees a solid grasp for policy discussions about Membership, Education, Artistic Programming and the Society's public service remit. It may sound frightfully boring from the outside, but a good strategic plan actually resembles a good poem: well put together with articulate phrasing, clear sense of consistency (rhythm), and of course moments of sheer brilliance.

So, looking ahead to highlights of 2006:
5 January – Poetry Society and Poetry Book Society host the first ever conference in London for UK city/region poet laureates.
10 March – winners of the National Poetry Competition 2005 announced (winners themselves will be notified immediately after the judging on 10 February).
16 March – John Hartley Williams discusses Percy Bysshe Shelley in the launch of a new series called Under the Influence – "who has intoxicated the poets of today?" – in association with London Review of Books.
4 May – Poets and Scientists gather in Newcastle to discuss our Poetry Laboratory of the language of poetry and science.
July – Ledbury Poetry Festival initiates a Poetry Society members' day and hosts a reading by our 2005 National Poetry Competition judges (Bernardine Evaristo, Mark Ford and Alison Brackenbury). All Poetry Society Stanzas will be invited to gather in Ledbury for the next Stanza meeting.

And then, of course, the build-up to National Poetry Day – Thursday 5 October 2006. The Poetry Society has decided on the theme of 'Identity' for this year, taking seriously one of the crucial issues and talking points in today's culture. We hope the theme will provoke discussion and awareness via poets writing about contemporary issues related to identity as well as the long tradition of poets in this country and around the world who have addressed this fascinating subject. The Poetry Society will be involved in several key Identity-themed events in the run-up to NPD, including a reading at St Giles-in-the-Fields on the evening of 5 October. If you'd like to get involved in this year's campaign, join the e-mail list for regular updates: [email protected] If you plan to programme an event around the theme, or wish to send us any other comments about NPD in general, we'd like to hear from you!

Onward and upward, to promote the study, use and enjoyment of poetry.