One of the things that must be quite delightful for some people about the recent rumbles at the Poetry Society is the delicious possibility of creating a few conspiracy theories around the story. Mutterings about mysterious cabals of "mainstream" poets and publishers trying to control the public image of poetry; disgruntled poets sitting in corners complaining about how the Poetry Review rejected them so it must be run by some poetic branch of the Illuminati, and if someone doesn't mention Mossad, the CIA and MI5 I'd be very surprised. Or maybe not, but at least, we'll be mentioning that strange many-headed hydra, "the establishment."
Poets like me, with an interest in the experimental and the down-right weird; or poets like my friend Angela, a solid, perfectly mainstream poet of personal lyric, probably both have some reason to complain that the Poetry Review (and, by extension, the Poetry Society) doesn't represent them. To quote Morrissey, "it says nothing to me about my life" but, on the other hand, why should it? Fiona Sampson as editor is entitled to her taste, and if it doesn't agree with ours, it's not as if we don't have outlets for our own writing elsewhere. It's just that it's not as public as the Poetry Review; but has the Poetry Review ever represented the whole of the poetry spectrum in this country? Even in the heady days of Eric Mottram, it still only represented one kind of poetry, only this time it was the experimental end of the spectrum.
The poetry world is larger and wider than any magazine, or any society, can represent; but it's also largely ignored unless someone is kicking off about mysterious goings on at the Poetry Society. Then you'll find the newspaper comments boxing filling up with splenetic philistines complaining about how much money is wasted on a 'hobby' that only requires pen and paper... and how nobody rhymes anymore and it's all incomprehensibel rubbish... and then the whole thing dies down and poets go back into obscurity until next time... We don't have much power on the whole, and that includes the editor of the Poetry Review; but that doesn't mean there are mysterious dark forces trying to dominate British poetry and trying to ensure that only "establishment" poetry is acceptable. There are only lots of people vying for attention and booksales.
I don't see lots of people becoming suddenly interested in the kind of poetry I write; and, although I'd love to have as many readers as the latest Harry Potter, it ain't going to happen. We can help people to understand what we do better; we can be open and generous to those who find what we do puzzling; but in the end I'm reasonably fine with having a small audience for what I do, because I'm stuck with it. I'm not about to start blaming mysterious dark forces for that; or editors of national poetry magazines that have a different taste from me. Even if I think her taste is largely rubbish...
I don't think the Poetry Society keeping schtum helps, and I support (from a distance...) the people who want an EGM to resolve things; but there's no cabal at the 'head' of British poetry. If British poetry even has a 'head' that is.
THE SWIFT REPORT 2023
1 month ago