the poetry book fair
Free Verse 2012 took place yesterday - the second year of the UK's biggest fair for small press publishers of poetry, lottery funded and organised by the great Charles Boyle. It featured readings by Roddy Lumsden, Glyn Maxwell, and Jo Brandon, among many others. And dozens of tables set up by presses small and larger, from Picador, Seren and Penned In The Margins, to Shearsman, Valley Press, Pighog, and our own Eyewear. Salt and Faber and Bloodaxe gave it a miss. The general buzz was wonderful - 7 hours of browsing and sharing, and interest in books. We sold around 15 books, which is a bit slow, but good for us, as we met hundreds of poets and poetry readers, and were able to spread the word about forthcoming collections. A few noteworthy negatives in a very positive day: one publisher when handed a free copy of our first publication waved it away, sneering he had no time for it. Or there was the unbelievably grumpy, bearded, portly, old man stooped behind his desk, who, when I introduced myself, scowled and said - "you're the Kingston man, never done a damn thing for me." He then went on a bitter tirade about how Eyewear had never reviewed his collections. It's true, I never have - but he only sent me a few review copies, and no one ever wanted to review them: they are by relatively beginner poets for the most part. He then said he had been publishing for 11 years and was fed up - no one wanted to buy his books. Well, judging from his stance, no wonder. He never walked among the other tables, or tried to swap or buy fellow publisher's books, or once smiled. He seemed unto himself. I can understand such an embattled feeling - being a small press publisher can feel isolating. And sales are very slow. And it is hard to get reviews. But I am hardly to blame for the fortunes of his press. A third type that emerges at such events is the poet who comes up, shows no interest in your book or books, and then takes your card. He or she then emails the next day, with a long letter explaining why you need to publish them instantly. In the poetry world, we know that there is more vanity than interest in poetry among some would-be-published (usually amateur) poets - people who don't understand that you need to engage with a publisher's catalogue of published poets before approaching them with a manuscript that is about 100 years behind the times and is utterly ego-driven. I loved Free Verse, for it was inspiring, and showed there is a viable British community of publishers and poets who support each other.