"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
The last of my big yellow blobs goes to someone who sits at the centre of British poetry, and especially of English poetry.
Actually she never just sits there, she dashes about like a blue-arsed fly, working with her team in London to arrange events of national importance and massive scale, to make international partnerships which serve poetry, to raise the profile of poetry across the UK, to manage a vast fundraising machine which serves poets very directly, to arrange media opportunities and to campaign vigorously on behalf of poetry.
Being the Director of the Poetry Society was never an easy job. It’s been particularly hard in recent years, when politics and infighting briefly derailed it (even ousting Judith herself, who was reinstated by demand of the membership). What it has cost Judith personally, and continues to cost her in terms of workload and politics, only she knows. But she Never Bloody Stops. Through inspired silliness like the Knitted Poem Tour, through ambitious programming like National Poetry Day Live, through events like the Buckingham Palace reception for poets last year whose guest list she helped to compile. Through partnerships with poetry organisations across the world, and through daily slog at the Poetry Society where everyone comes to get their poetry queries answered, she just gets on with running the best-known poetry organisation we have.
Her mission is to make poetry less intimidating without ever making it less important – to reach a wider audience without dumbing down, and to bring an old institution into the twenty first century with all its possibilities and pitfalls. Judith does it, daily and constantly, and she is utterly committed in doing so.
Dealing with poets is like herding cats at the best of times. Dealing with poets at all levels of public awareness is a job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But Judith spots opportunities or makes them out of thin air and – as no-one knows better than I – has patience beyond measure in dealing with their whims and weaknesses. She makes things happen – most of us aren’t aware of the scaffolding behind events like the National Poetry Competition or the production of Poetry Review, but they all come out of the Poetry Society and Judith is ultimately responsible for them.
So give thanks, poetry people, for Judith Palmer and for her dedication, and thanks to the other seven people who I thought deserved recognition for their work in poetry. Your Big Yellow Blob is worthless in financial terms and perhaps in other terms too – but it stands for thanks.
Of course, I’m not the last arbiter of judgment in poetry world. When I asked the hive brain on Facebook whom they would nominate as a ‘poetry hero’ dozens of names came up. Most of them I knew, a few of them I didn’t and of course, there will be dozens who weren’t suggested simply because their friends or colleagues didn’t see my post. But in one last post on this theme tomorrow, I will put up all those names – and then we will let them sink back into their usual hardworking lives.