David Blackburn

Poetry ‘dealt with in fell swoop’ by the Arts Council

The Arts Council (ACE) has not one ounce of sentiment. Faced with a tight spending settlement, ACE has withdrawn £111,000 funding from the Poetry Book Society (PBS), founded by T.S. Eliot to promote poetry.

In consequence, the PBS is threatened with closure, along with the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize. This has inspired a furious reaction in the mainstream media and the blogosphere. A petition has been established and PBS board have written to the Times today threatening to challenge ACE’s decision. This follows separate interventions from 9 poets and Carol Ann Duffy, each expressing their concern and, in Duffy’s case, disgust that so much funding is to be withdrawn from such a ‘worthy and influential organisation’.       

ACE has been resolute so far, saying that that the society’s ‘reach and distribution’ were not as ‘wide or effective as other applicants’. Director of literature, Antonia Byatt has also stressed that ACE had will increase its grants to literary organisations by 9.9 percent in real terms, rising from £5.9million in 2011 to £7.2 million in 2014.  

That may be so, but closer examination reveals that there are winning and losing genres. English PEN, an organisation that challenges censorship, received a funding increase of 190 percent; and Dedalus, a specialist fiction publisher, will benefit from a 35.4 percent hike in core funding. PBS’s rival, the Poetry Society, will receive more cash for its various projects; but, other than that, support for poetry has been drastically cut. As poets Christopher Ward and Daljit Nagra reveal on an internet discussion board, publishing houses Salt, Christian, ARC, and Enitharmon, Flambard and Anvil have all lost vital funding.

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