Nine of the UK's leading poets, including laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Blake Morrison and Don Paterson, have called for Arts Council England (ACE) to "urgently reconsider their decision" to withdraw funding from the Poetry Book Society (PBS). The ACE has scheduled a meeting with PBS board members for Monday [4th April].
In a letter published in today's Times, the poets said they were "shocked that the Arts Council has decided to withdraw all funding from the Poetry Book Society, a widely respected and unique organisation that selects outstanding poetry collections for readers and libraries".
The Society will lose its regular funding from ACE from April 2012, as part of the implementation of its new portfolio funding for the arts which followed the Government's cuts in its spending review of October 2010. It is receiving £111,299 from the Arts Council in its final year of funding for the 2011/12 financial year.
The PBS also administers the T S Eliot Prize, an award for new collections of poetry in English, and has supported works in translation. It was established by Sir Stephen Spender, with T S Eliot and Philip Larkin among previous board members.
In the letter, the poets, which also included Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope, David Harsent, Jo Shapcott, Christopher Reid and George Szirtes, added: "We ask the Arts Council to urgently reconsider their decision which will have a devastating impact on poets, publishers and, especially, on readers of contemporary poetry."
Vice-chair of the PBS board, Desmond Clarke, said ACE has now contacted the PBS and arranged a meeting for Monday [4th April]. He said: "Clearly the PBS and the T S Eliot Prize are the most high-profile casualty of the Arts Council cuts. This letter is very powerful and it's great that nine of our country's leading poets have come out in support. To lose the T S Eliot Prize, the highest profile prize in the English language, would be very very sad."
Of the Monday meeting, he said: "There's a hint that having slammed the door perhaps the door is being reopened."
The PBS has set up a petition at www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/save-the-poetry-book-society/2631, calling on the public to "send a clear message to the Arts Council that the PBS and its members are absolutely vital if there is to be an audience for poetry in
the future". It is also asking people to contact ACE directly, by emailing its chair, Dame Liz Forgan [firstname.lastname@example.org] and to support the society by buying a membership or a book.
PBS director Chris Holifield added: "We are stunned to have lost our funding after ACE's support over many years, which threatens our continued existence as an organisation".