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Poetry Society issues full and frank explanation of dispute

28 Jul 2011 News

The Poetry Society has published the full details of the internal dispute which has prompted the Arts Council to threaten to withhold its funding until the Society gets its house back in order.

The Poetry Society has published the full details of the internal dispute which has prompted the Arts Council to threaten to withhold its funding until the Society gets its house back in order.

The Society's former director Judith Palmer has also issued her own equally frank account of the situation on a Poetry Society members blog site.

In an EGM statement released last Friday, the Society refers to a “dysfunctional management relationship between the director and a senior staff member”, the “evident stress” suffered by the director as a result of her excessive workload, and the director’s threats to sue the Society after the board suggested that the senior employee should report directly to them for a while. However, it also states that negotiations are currently under way to explore Palmer's reinstatement.

It also talks of “rising emotions”, “conspiracy theories”, “unrelenting and unacceptable pressure on trustees” and admits that mistakes were made by the board.

The dispute arose after the charity was awarded an increase in funding by the Arts Council of more than £300,000 over the next three years. The award came with increased responsibilities and added workload, trustee John Simmons said at the EGM, and the burden of this workload was taken on by the Society's director Judith Palmer, who had generated the successful funding bid. 

But disputes arose between Palmer and Fiona Sampson, editor of the Society's publication, Poetry Review, and over Palmer's perceived ability to handle her workload.

Eventually Palmer resigned on 9 May. The subsequent resignations of finance manager Paul Ranford, the Society's president Jo Shapcott, vice president Gwyneth Lewis, trustee Robin Bolam and Carpenter followed. Bolam and Carpenter's resignations "were not protests," said Simmons, but instead were "caused by the unrelenting and unacceptable pressure on their professional and personal situations".

Admitting mistakes

In the EGM statement Simmons admitted that the board made mistakes in the way it handled the situation. He also admitted that the board's silence fuelled the flames of conspiracy which led to speculation in the press, and even a satirical YouTube film based on Hitler in the film Downfall portraying some of the members of the Society. 

Judith Palmer's version of events

However, Palmer's account of the situation does not accord with that of Simmons' EGM statement. She claims that the board had unilaterally taken over responsibility for areas of her job leaving her unable to run the organisation using her own judgement.

She also alleged that members of the board had become "increasingly intimidatory".

She concluded: "Out of concern for my colleagues I have been wary of making the board's actions public. It seems quite clear, however, that funding cannot flow again until the truth is out and a new board is up."

On Friday the Poetry Society announced that its entire board would be replaced in September. The Society is now in discussions with the Arts Council, which on Monday warned that the charity would have to "get its house in order", or risk losing its funding altogether.

Interim governance arrangements have seen the Society employ former Arts Council director for London Amanda Smethurst as its director from 5 July and Laura Bamford as acting chair from 29 June.

 

>>Read the full EGM statement here<<

>>Read Judith Palmer's response here<<

 

 

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