Veer Books manned a stall at the FREE VERSE Poetry Book Fair on September 7th 2013 at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1
I turned up, along with my fellow Veer Books editors, and very distinguished poets, Ulli Freer and Adrian Clarke, at the FREE VERSE Poetry Book Fair at 10 in the morning, trailing boxes and cases of books, less harassed than usual for one of these events. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, so we hadn’t overdone our preparations. Yes, it was in the same venue, and had a lot of the same overall features as the longer running, and more broadly literary and art book based Small Publishers Fair that takes place in the late Autumn/early Winter each year, but it was the first time for us at Veer at this fair. Not just for us, we had noted, as many of the other presses in the contemporary or innovative poetry field were also making an appearance for the first time at this event. There is something in this about how information is disseminated in the poetry world, but that’s, perhaps, another topic. While there were a lot of more traditional poetry presses present, there was also a very strong showing of those from the contemporary/innovative poetry world in the UK, which was encouraging to see, both in their presence at a public facing publishing event like this, and in the number and diversity of these presses flourishing today. Presses such as Crater, Critical Documents, Etruscan Books, If P Then Q, Knives, Forks and Spoons, Reality Street, Seren, Shearsman, Smokestack Books, West House Books, ©_© Press, and others were represented, all bringing interesting and lively poetry to the hall.
Likewise presenting new and innovative poetry to the mix was Surrey’s own Contraband Books, who had a whole series of new books on display, such as Andrew Spragg’s A Treatise on Disaster, John Freeman’s White Wings, Elizabeth Guthrie’s Portraits – Captions and Nicolas Spicer’s Lines on the Surface. Ugly Duckling Press, over from New York, a press we have a particular affinity with at Veer, was a very welcome addition to the lineup as well.
The atmosphere between the publishers and sellers was, as usual, pretty congenial and friendly – although we may publish very different types of poetry, or indeed, be in competition with each other where we publish in the same field, we do – usually – get along very well!
The day itself was busy, encouragingly so. A lot of books were sold by a lot of presses. My conversations with participants on the day confirmed that this was an event worth attending from a sales point of view, and I suspect, going forward, increasingly from a visibility point of view. Admittedly, this event took place over one day, whereas the event most of us would compare it most closely to, the Small Publishers Fair, takes place over two days. This might explain the more frenetic pace I think we all experienced. Another significant difference is, of course, that all the presses present were specifically engaged in poetry publishing, including some bigger presses, like Faber and Faber, Bloodaxe Books and Carcanet Press, whereas the Small Publishers Fair has a wider remit that includes a focus on book art and book designer publishing. The key term with this latter event is ‘Small’ Publishers Fair, so no big publishing houses will be taking part. Such events are important to the publishing world, as it’s the proliferation of small presses that has, in a very real sense, kept poetry alive in the UK. As a qualification of this, it is worth making the point that even the big poetry publishing concerns in the UK, including Salt and Picador, operate within a poetry publishing world with markets that are relatively small when compared with that of fiction publishing.
Of course, poetry fairs are not just about stalls and buying books (though I did leave the building with a groaning bag of purchases). One of the real attractions is the readings component. Hearing and celebrating new work at readings is an essential part of the poetry scene, in my opinion – they promote and generate new work, critical engagement, knowledge and a sense of community amongst writers, as well as book sales and exposure for the poets. Poetry readings need you, and you need them! Get out there to more readings, if you don’t already do so.
These readings kicked off very early, at 10:30am (well, very early for poets!) Due to the demands of manning a book stall all day, I didn’t get to see as many of the readings as I would have liked, but certainly the Knives, Forks & Spoons and West House Books, Reality Street and Shearsman Books readings were excellent. I was sorry to miss the evening readings that took place in the Square Pig and Pen pub around the corner, epecially the Nine Arches Press and if p then q readings which promised to be something special.
The audiences were good from the start, and by the time the Veer Books launch readings were taking place at 11:30am, the room was heaving. On the line up we had Ollie Evans reading from his new book, Kettles, Drew Milne reading from the forthcoming Reactor Red Shoes, and our very own David Ashford, lecturer at the University of Surrey, reading from XARAGMATA. That nobody was disappointed is an understatement, as we heard three really impressive, powerful readings, as you can hear yourself – click the links below to listen to a recording of each of the poets reading at the fair. Many thanks go to the readers who made it such a memorably event for us, and for the audience.
It was, all in all, a successful, well attended event that Veer, for one, will certainly be appearing at again next year.
Next up, in terms of book fairs is the Small Publishers Fair 2013 (again at the Conway Hall) on November 15th and 16th – we hope to see you there.
More details of the FREE VERSE Poetry Book Fair are here.
More details of Veer Books are here.