Nottingham Poetry Society was originally the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society in London. In 1941, Margery Smith wrote to London and asked for the names of Society members living in the Nottingham area. She met with three other women and together they advertised and formed the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society, which later became Nottingham Poetry Society. The “strongest interest of the new society was in verse-speaking”.
The Society met in the Adult Schoolroom, Friar Lane on the third Saturday of every month at 2.45 pm. Annual Subscription was one guinea, which included 2 issues of Poetry Review from London. In 1946 they started to produce the monthly Nottingham Poetry Society magazine, containing members’ poems and news. In 1947 they held the first of their Annual Verse Speaking events, and a Nottingham Anthology of Original Poetry containing members’ poems was published priced 2/-.
Their constitution stated, in the words of Matthew Arnold, that the Society’s aim should be to “promote a clearer, deeper sense of the best in poetry and of the strength and joy to be drawn from it.” From the start, their concerns were the usual ones – membership numbers, getting enough people for the Committee. Says Lake Aske, the Secretary in 1950, “I worry about the state of the Society and … those attendance figures are watched by me like one watches a greenhouse thermometer … ” Maybe they would have done well to take heed of the comment in a magazine later that year: “I was surprised to hear that we had lost a newcomer because nobody spoke to him …”!
The meetings were varied, and the Annual Spoken Poetry Festivals where members read their own and other poems were held at large venues in Nottingham such as the Albert or Co-operative Hall. There were many competitions, some for members, one for example for A Sonnet of Sorrow recorded in 1950. In the late 1950s the magazine states “the ability to promote and maintain a good discussion is one of the proofs of an intelligent, happy organisation. We frequently pass this test.” It is also reported that “three groups of people brought cakes to the meeting. This cheerful custom seems to be growing.”
In 1959 the Society moved to YMCA, Shakespeare Street, the magazine became Poetry Nottingham, and started to come out quarterly, and in 1961 a decision was made at the AGM for meetings to become “less formal with more reading and discussion of work”. Big changes came about in 1973 when Poetry Nottingham became A5 size with a card cover, and opened its doors to subscribers and submissions of poetry from outside Nottingham, with the help of funding from East Midlands Arts, the cost rising to 20p! The Society remained at YMCA until 1975 when a further move was made to the Mechanics Institute. After the death of Lake Aske, the Annual Open Poetry Competition became the Lake Aske Memorial competition. Entry in 1974 was 20p per poem, and 5p per poem for the long-running Edith May Sewell children’s competition. The 1980s and 1990s saw the growth of the magazine into a respected part of the small press poetry scene. In 1998 the Society received a Lottery Award to extend their programme and to run a series of events in conjunction with Dillons on Wheeler Gate.
In October 2003, the Mechanics relocated to North Sherwood Street, Nottingham.
Meetings are held there on the fourth Saturday of the month, at 2.45 pm. The Society still “promotes the best in poetry”, and holds an Annual Competition – now the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition.
2001, the Society’s 60th anniversary year, was celebrated by an Anniversary Dinner at Ben Bowers restaurant in Nottingham in September and the publication of NPS Sixty, an anthology of current members’ poetry. The Anthology was launched at a special birthday party held in the Sillitoe Room of Waterstone’s Bookshop in Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham in October 2001 with guest-reader Amanda Dalton.
In 2004 the editorship of ‘Poetry Nottingham International’ was passed to Adrian Buckner and it was decided at the 2004 AGM for the magazine to become independent. It reverted to its original name of ‘Poetry Nottingham’ and was independently funded by subscriptions and a grant from the Arts Council of England East Midlands.
2004 also saw the production of a short documentary film about the Society, its members and activities, by Neil Fulwood.
In 2009 ‘Poetry Nottingham’, while still under the editorship of Adrian Buckner, was adopted by the University of Derby who now fund the magazine, which, with a change of name, has become ‘Assent’. It still retains links to the Society by publishing the winning poems from the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition each year.
2011 saw the Society celebrate its 70th Anniversary year with the publication of a new anthology of current members’ poetry called ‘Seventy’ which was launched at an event at Waterstones in Nottingham in October 2011. Copies of the Anthology are available from the Society priced £5.00. Full details can be found on our Publications page.
The Nottingham Evening Post published a feature article in November 2011 inspired by the publication of the anthology. Mark Patterson talked to Society Chairman Jeremy Duffield and investigated the history of the Society. This is available online – click here.