PBS Funding Cut

Article Image It was just as if the sky fell in last week. Out of the clear blue sky, like the proverbial bolt from the blue, the PBS lost its funding. After operating for 58 years, after being set up by T S Eliot and friends at the instigation of the Arts Council, now we were cast loose without any warning.

It may look as if funded arts organisations have a cushy time spending taxpayers' money but if you are going to have state funding for the arts then you need a way of handing out the money and doing the job. Whatever you think about ACE, that's their job and - let's face it - someone has to do it.

But why would they take away money from something they'd been funding for years? Did they decide that poetry readers don't matter? Or that poetry books are old hat? Or did they think that someone else could do the job better than us? And who is that?

Our USPs are that the PBS is the only poetry book club in the world and the Poetry Bookshop Online the only specialist online poetry retailer. That's quite hard to beat and it was fun to see the surprise on our web developers' faces when we came out top in the search engines with our names before they'd done a single thing.

It's been a whirlwind ten days since then as we have fought to get our funding reinstated. Carol Ann Duffy, contacted on a train, texted her outrage in a supportive quote which enabled us to get the campaign rolling:

"This news goes beyond shocking and touches the realms of the disgusting. The PBS was established by T S Eliot in 1953 and is one of poetry's most sacred churches with an influence and reach far beyond its membership. This fatal cut is a national shame and a scandal and I urge everyone who cares about poetry to join the PBS as a matter of urgency."

By the time I was on Front Row, recorded that afternoon, my nerves had steadied and I was able to sound defiant rather than cowed. A good thing really, as I was feeling devastated and sick to my stomach.

Since then it's been a rollercoaster as we've been heartened by the affectionate support we've received, thrilled by the massive press coverage we've had (see below) and terrified at the thought of it really being the end.

But the closer we've looked at the situation, the more puzzled we've been. Why were we cut with no warning? Which other organisation would undertake the work we've been doing? How would poetry readers find out about new poetry? How would publishers get their poetry books in front of audiences? How would poets get their work publicly acknowledged and recommended to readers? How would the T S Eliot Prize be awarded?

There are of course other answers to some of these questions but closing the PBS would mean the loss of so much history and so much promise, with the new websites poised now to deliver so much, with all the poetry books in print and CDs too available through www.poetrybookshoponline.com, together with a poetry events section and the new free Online Poetry Reading Group. On www.poetrybooks.co.uk there's the members' area with the Online Bulletin and the free student membership, and the T S Eliot Prize. Both sites have access to the Poetry Portal, with reviews and articles about pamphlets and poets and how to get published. The news sections are there to provide updates on what's going on in the poetry world.

All this was funded just last year by ACE and looks fit to be thrown away if we bite the dust. Let's hope we can negotiate a way forward with ACE next week. Public funding is a conundrum I've not been able to fathom.





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