The theft of Writers Forum’s name

I regret that a statement must be made about an ongoing situation regarding the fraudulent use of WF’s identity.
A Q & A seems to be the most neutral way of doing it. All the questions have been asked of me in the weeks since August 2010; and the answers are, more or less, the answers I have given.
Lawrence Upton
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Q There seem to be two Writers Forum Workshops advertised.
There is one Writers Forum Workshop. The other is a scam.

Q How long has this been going on?
In some ways, since shortly after our founder, Bob Cobbing, died in 2002

Q Surely not.
Yes.
I told people. They didn’t want to hear. They said I was exaggerating.
Now no one thinks that.
Some attacks have been laughable.
This attack is serious and quite effective. It’s still a scam, a dishonest and destructive scam.

Q That’s a serious charge. Who’s involved?
These are the signatories to a letter of 6th September 2010 announcing that they are taking over, although they had already started their attempt without announcing it:
Sean Bonney, Wayne Clements, Johan De Wit, Steve Fowler, Antony John Francis, James Harvey, Jeff Hilson, Matt Martin, Stephen Mooney, Nat Raha, Linus Slug, Jamie Sutcliffe
That is 5 regular attenders at the workshop, 2 less regular attenders and 5 non attenders.
At the moment, Stephen Mooney and Antony John Francis are advertising themselves as telephone contacts

Q The letter doesn’t say they are taking over
That’s true. Pardon me.
The letter does not seem honest to me in the light of what they are actually doing.

Q You must tell me all that before I can believe it. The letter itself looks ok.
Do you think it does? Let me start with the letter. Read it carefully.
Think about there being “no democratic mechanism in place by which our majority view can be expressed and acted upon”. It’ s a meeting of poets sharing their work!
But Writers Forum always has been participative. They protest too much. They did not participate; but want their way and they call that democracy, I suppose.
None of them had asked me for my side of Adrian’s resignation; so they should say “hearsay” regarding the resignation and its circumstances.
I disagree with their analyses. They appear to be rather out-dated And I mistrust the letter itself because in many places it reads like management-speak or advertising gush:
“This is a particularly exciting time for [innovative and experimental] writing, with many poets producing important work. However, we feel that neither the Writers Forum workshop nor the press are fulfilling their potential in this exciting time.” and “in which the best traditions of Writers Forum can be carried on, and the workshop open to new members, and the collective impetus of all its members.”
It offers management-style analyses: “New poets are not being attracted to the workshop and more established poets are not being retained.”
I think it’s poorly written and it does not convince me of their sincerity. Is that the best these innovative writers can do?

Q But these are honourable people.
Are they? A few names surprised me. But there it is and there they are and they haven’t withdrawn their signatures. They say, too, that they are truly collective; and I have to take them at their word.
I had thought some of them my friends. I certainly regarded them as fellow professionals. I had thought we had shared aims and shared ethics.
Jeff Hilson is an exceptional poet.

Q This has been happening for 8 years?
Not this episode. It isn’t always quite all the same people.
This attack started in June. Stephen Mooney, one of them, issued an announcement and invitation on behalf of Writers Forum Workshop though he had not attended for months; and I cannot remember when he last contributed.
He and I had been talking by email, but he was in his capacity as a Veer person, about a problem arising from his failure to organise a book launch in time. Then out of the blue came the announcement I speak of.
Everything he announced could have been accommodated, though I did not like much of it, but he had made no attempt to negotiate (ignoring the small matter that he wasn’t in a position to negotiate but was butting in). Eventually, Adrian Clarke, my then colleague, accepted responsibility for the announcement but refused to discuss it with me further until after 10th July despite it being our policy to reach consensual decisions.
Stephen Mooney later denied wanting to take over, and I even apologised to him; but he is now affecting to be the telephone contact for Writers Forum.
I acquiesced then in his imposition, in view of the lack of support — to put it very mildly — from my colleague, in order not to offend our guest-of-honour and in order to try to keep Writers Forum going.
I was M.C. of the 10th July event, at Adrian’s suggestion, and it went ok. I’d had no list of proposed performers from the man who had put it together (Adrian Clarke) and no timings; which would have been ok if we had stuck to the workshop formula; but that was resisted.
I think I made a silk purse out of it.
After 10th July, Adrian Clarke resigned, dismissing me as “a barrack-room lawyer”, so that no discussion was purposeful or even meaningfully possible.

Q How did that feel?
Upsetting. But one loses friends now and then, usually in the process of finding that they are not friends.
I came to the conclusion that the loss of my fellow convenor / director would not make much difference in work terms. I did most of the work already and could probably do all of it. I published a quiet unobtrusive reference to the matter on the website and prepared to tell regulars a little more of what had happened as best I could. These did not give me a chance.

Q Can’t you let them start their own workshop?
Certainly. I can’t stop them. And I’d rather they went, feeling as they do.

Q All right. So Adrian Clarke resigned and you concluded it wouldn’t make much difference operationally. What happened then?
They put it about by email, behind my back, that the Writers Forum Workshop of 28th August 2010 had been cancelled, which affected numbers over and above however many there were of them then. There was no question of cancelling. The aim can only have been to damage Writers Forum and to dispirit me, like soldiers bombing a place before they take over. The lie violated the trust on which we have always operated.
That’s before the letter to me, before any complaint was made to me that they “couldn’t talk” to me. They have never said that directly; only behind my back. The letter says it is difficult to raise matters with me: they do not explain and they have never tried.

Personally ambitious poet: Let me run the workshop

Upton: No thanks. I prefer not to.

Personally ambitious poet: You’re very difficult to work with.

When I inquired of one of them on August 31st about an example of the misinformation exercise he had perpetrated, I was told “I didn’t actually say that” [i.e. “you told her Saturday’s workshop was cancelled”] So I quoted the email saying pretty much that, which had been forwarded to me [“i’ve been told wforum is most likely cancelled today”]; and this time I asked why he lied to me. And, at that point, I was told by the writer of the email, S J Fowler, that he was too busy to answer because he was at work.
I said I could wait till he had the time at work or otherwise, and I am still waiting. He’s had the time to do other things since and has sent me general emails about the poets he is interviewing; so I conclude he prefers not to answer. I am surprised he sends me emails; Veer emails seem to have stopped.
Earlier in the year, Mr Fowler had volunteered to help Writers Forum Workshop in any way he could; and he was embarrassing with what I found obsequious praise for Writers Forum Workshop and for me. Nevertheless, I was considering the offer and had been trying to think how he could help. I had and have some doubts regarding him, a gut feeling and, not least, the slogan “whatever it is, we’re against it” of 3 a.m. magazine with which he is associated.
Mr Fowler had asked me to open Writers Forum Workshop to some visiting Romanian poets in May 2010 and I assumed that he knew what he was doing. The poets were affable and competent enough when I met them; but, when I had heard them read, I wondered if Mr Fowler has any comprehension what the workshop is about.
Yet, now, a few months later, he says he is worried about its direction, despite his fulsome praise when he wanted something from me.
No one else has made any proposals regarding the content or conduct of the workshop. No proposals, no suggestions, no complaints, and until this contradictory letter of dismissal, no praise.
One other signatory to the letter clearly voiced doubts after the May event, about that event; and others muttered. I explained, quietly, that I had taken a chance and got egg on my face. So it goes. (Adrian Clarke had expressed no opinion on the matter and left it to me.) What an opportunity the malcontents had to discuss the worries that have caused them to take this drastic action. It was an opportunity they did not take.

Q Where did the letter come in?
It was sent shortly before I was due to leave my office on 6th September to get a night train at the start of a three week working holiday. The time of my departure from work was well-known (and if they had said “We want you out of Writers Forum to stop you talking about Cornwall” then I might have had some sympathy!); so it could be that it was timed to cause me discomfort, as I was locking up and heading off to tranquil work, and thus to gain tactical advantage, in the way that they seem to see things. (I’m still waiting for someone to say: It’s not personal; it’s business.) Remember that they had already told people a workshop was cancelled before writing.
I changed my schedule and left early because of a tube strike and did not see the message for weeks. It would have caused discomfort; and I was never going to be taken in by “We do want these things to be discussed openly with you” given the rest of the letter. They had already set up their own organisation and already started attacking Writers Forum — claiming still to value it

Q But I still don’t see why you can’t both have workshops.
No reason at all.

Q So what’s the problem?
They don’t want another workshop.
They call themselves Writers Forum (NewSeries) too and meet at exactly the same date and time as Writers Forum. It is a passing off. It is a confidence trick. The aim is to destroy Writers Forum and then appear to become it.
They have been advertising their “alternate workshop” as “Writers Forum (New Series)” at 3:30 for 4 in a central London pub.
Anyone googling “Writers Forum” would be forgiven for being confused. I think they want to be known as the only “innovative” workshop. I think they want to destroy what exists and replace it using its name.
They have no right to the name. They have just stolen it. O brave new world.
I used to hear moans about “3:30 for 4”, being told that “lots of people” didn’t like being told when to turn up though no one who thought that ever spoke for themselves! but they have adopted my formula – presumably to pass themselves off, like a Nigerian 419 scam.
They met on 18th September 2010 whereas Writers Forum met on 25th; but only because I changed the date: it had first been advertised as 18th. We both met on 9th October and 30th October to the best of my knowledge, in confusing competition. And it goes on.
The dates were set in the spring and accepted. To duplicate them now is clearly deliberate and therefore, in the circumstances, I think, malicious.
I see no good will. Only worldly ambition.
There are other groups in UK using the name – it’s a fairly obvious name – but those groups tend to be obviously not us.
Superficially, this lot are interested in the same areas of poetry as Writers Forum, though Writers Forum always has been wider than they think; and some of their pronouncements sound to me like warmed over Futurism. Anyone not au fait would be confused and I suspect that is the intention. Passing off, as I say.
On the 9th, I know now, they welcomed our founder’s widow. That’s fine. She may go where she wishes; and she may well feel torn because Adrian and I have argued. I regret my part in that in that context; I feel for her divided loyalty.
It was cruel of them and not a little calculating, I believe, not to remind her that Writers Forum, which they were pretending to be, was launching a reprint of her late husband’s book that day, a book she had particularly wanted to see published. That event cannot happen twice. It is lost to her. What a trophy for limited minds. Their behaviour compares poorly with some of what was said, sanctimonious stuff, at the time of her celebration

The book itself seems to be of no interest to them. They pay Cobbing’s work lip service.
It seems to me that they want the NAME “Writers Forum” for its kudos. They want the reputation and its power.
One of them has expressed to me “confusion” about what has happened, although he signed the letter… Others tell me that they wish to attend both workshops and complain that I am, they have been told, somehow, stopping them.
I have undertaken not to let it be known who among them is speaking to me. The desire for secrecy suggests a degree of coercion though it may not be overt.
One of the signatories to the letter had attended the workshop of 28th August 2010 and showed no sign of the deep and troubling concern for the future of the workshop he expressed only a week later. What happened?
Is it good and necessary to destroy what exists when they say they value it? They seem to be trying – telling people not to go to the original, making people choose, scaring their own not to speak out — and, presumably, will soon have the imprimatur and advertising power of Birkbeck’s website and Birkbeck’s CPRC behind them.
I conclude that they are trying to destroy the existing Writers Forum just because they do not control it as they obviously hoped they would.
I had been feeling a little weary. What they have achieved is to make me feel that I must carry on because I am surrounded by… let’s say by people who are not yet ready for the responsibility.
The apparent desire to enfold ALL poets seen to be doing “important” work is troubling. Writers Forum always has been an option and has never sought to be all in all. Again it reminds me of the totalitarian slant of the Futurists.
I never saw it as my job to be a personal trainer to help, ex officio, poets realise their full potential. I hope I wouldn’t show such arrogance.
They have Veer; and I thought the Centre for Contemporary Poetics Research had a workshop. It did have.
Had they wanted to discuss the issues with me, all they had to do was speak. I have missed very few workshops in the last ten years. They say it was difficult to raise the issues with me. I don’t see why.
I see deep flaws in their analysis. But they never tried discussing it with me. Discussion is not the way to power.

Q Power?
The Writers Forum which I have known and which I now run is to do with ambition for poetry not for one’s career as a poet. That’s a separate individual matter; and an ethical matter.
Yet, one cannot edit or curate without acquiring power. The way, however, is not to accumulate it unnecessarily and to let it go frequently.
I have done that throughout my poetic career.
For 8 years I have sought to co-run and run Writers Forum without too much nonsense and without self-seeking. (Before, if I wanted to add something to my c.v. I asked Bob’s permission.)
I think that what is being done is plagiarism, posing as if they are responsible for a major part of the activity that has built the name Writers Forum for decades, on the back of very limited attendance in some cases.
They have participated in some workshops and a few have been published by it. That’s it.
Some are a small part its aesthetic product; but no more than that. They have not contributed much if anything to its “vision”. They have not done any of its work.
The act of taking somebody else’s effort and presenting it as your own is an act of academic dishonesty.
According to the Birkbeck website, Birkbeck takes academic dishonesty very seriously, saying, for instance, that plagiarism and any other form of intellectual dishonesty can result in students failing the degree.
I reference Birkbeck because that is where Mr Mooney is based and from where Veer Publications is funded.
I imagine that a similar attitude applies at Roehampton University where Jeff Hilson is a senior lecturer or at Museum of London or at British Library where one will find others of this group. I cannot believe that such centres of intellectual professionalism support intellectual passing off. We shall see.

Q Is that it?
There is the character assassination gossip. I am told, I have said, that I am “difficult to work with” – this is always someone else’s opinion, without names, whispered to me that it is being whispered. They need that, of course, as an excuse, otherwise one sees what they done in its true light.
Some found me difficult, when they went behind my back and undermined Writers Forum and I found out. I don’t think they could believe my anger. Perhaps they do not understand why anyone would be angry at intellectual dishonesty.

Apart from that? I am a professional collaborative artist. I work solo and in teams. I get on with people. I always have done.

Q You can’t go on for ever though
I have no choice at present. I shall go on until there is no need for it or until I have had enough fighting mediocrity or there is someone else who can take over or I am too old or drop dead.

I may say and do more if this theft and character assassination continues. It would not make anyone look that good. Disagreement is rarely impressive.
There is a world of difference between being rude in private and on principle and dirtying someone’s name in public to undermine them. My enemies have sweet voices and do the latter.
I cannot equate the behaviour of the “alternate workshop” (including trying to steal the glory attaching to someone dead who cannot now tell them what I think I know he would tell them, someone they don’t even mention), with the people who wrote patronisingly: “yours is a towering contribution to Writers Forum and to poetry in general”
I call upon them to behave as if they have some decency and to start earning a reputation for their workshop instead of trying to steal it.

Q What do you want them to do? Is that it?
Get themselves a room and start working. That’s how Cobbing did it.

Let them find their own and completely different name. Let them stop implicitly falsely claiming the decades of work of others who have gone before them. And let them meet at other times than WF so that people can attend both.

Get yourselves a separate name, get yourselves your own schedule and start working.

Work at poetry instead of schemes of deception.

Those who want to come to both workshops should do so and not be prevented or intimidated from doing so. One of my “towering contributions” has been to plan ahead; so they know the dates not to book.
Am I to believe that their “collective impetus” could not identify a Saturday in October that is not 9th or 30th without my help? Are these innovative poets of the future unable to think of a name?

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