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U.K. poets band together to protest cuts

It’s National Poetry Month here in Canada, an annual initiative by the League of Canadian Poets to bring public attention to poetry. But across the Atlantic, the beginning of April more closely resembles T.S. Eliot’s characterization as “the cruellest month.” On March 30, Arts Council England (ACE) announced cuts to over 200 arts organizations, including the Poetry Book Society, which Eliot himself established in 1953. Responding to the cut in funding, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy said that it was “a national shame and a scandal” that “goes beyond shocking and touches the realms of the disgusting.”

In response to the denial of funding for the Poetry Book Society, a letter of protest has been signed by more than 100 poets. The Poetry Book Society claims it will have to shut down entirely if the proposed cuts kick in as of April 2012.

This reaction is to some extent predictable; what is less predictable is the reaction in opposition to proposed funding for British publisher Faber. In light of cuts to the Poetry Book Society and certain smaller publishers, the decision to give money to a relatively well-off publisher such as Faber has ruffled some feathers. From the Guardian:

Former Faber director Desmond Clarke, also a former chair of the board at the Poetry Book Society, said he found ACE’s decision to favour the publisher over the Poetry Book Society “extraordinary.”

“As a commercially profitable publisher, Faber is more than capable of investing in a small number of poets each year,” he said. “The reality is that Faber has made enormous amounts of money by publishing poetry, and out of the royalties of Cats which has provided it with many millions over the years.” T.S. Eliot, author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which inspired the musical, left his literary estate to Faber.

Clarke added: “If I were still a director of Faber I would actually be embarrassed that we should take money when the Poetry Book Society has lost funding.”

The broader picture shows that literature is actually the biggest winner in ACE’s new budget, seeing a 10 per cent increase in funding, while all other cultural arenas experience a net loss. The same article quotes Rachel Feldberg, director of the Ilkley Literature Festival (one of the organizations that will benefit from ACE’s allocation of funds) as feeling “torn” between her own elation and sadness for those who lost out:

“It’s exciting for us but for our colleagues the outlook may be bleak,” she said. The increased funding will enable the festival to continue and expand projects including work with young people in Leeds and Bradford schools.

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