Ooh, poetry books. Trestle tables. Shouty snatches of conversation trying to be heard in the hubbub. “I wasn’t sure about his last collection, it it didn’t quite work, did it?” … “Oh yeah, did you hear? I got divorced – she buggered off to Germany, thank God”. It has to be Free Verse, the Poetry Book Fair, now an annual event and eagerly awaited by poets, small presses and poetry organisations nationwide. Last year I was a volunteer helper and a bit overwhelmed, to be honest, so this year I made a point of trying not to feel awkward, saying hello and chatting to people. This was greatly helped by having fellow Telltale Poet Peter Kenny to browse the exhibition with.
Having enjoyed the company of Lewes poet Clare Best on the way to London, my first port of call was the free readings in the open air teashop in Red Lion Square. Poets from Knives Forks & Spoons press were reading, one of whom was Sarah James, who I virtually met many years ago in an online poetry forum. It’s always great to put a real person to a name or a blog. Sarah was lovely and I ended up buying her collection Be[yond] in a sort of end-of-the-day buying frenzy. More about that below. Anyway, I then to-ed and fro-ed a bit between the room in Conway Hall where readings and discussions were taking place, and the park cafe. I was pleased to catch D A Prince reading at the Happenstance session. When a poem card came through the post from Happenstance with one of Davina’s poems on it, I knew I wanted to read her latest book ‘Common Ground’, so this was my opportunity to grab a copy.
Back at the park cafe, it was spitting with rain but no-one else seemed to notice. Great to hear Josh Ekroy read and to tell him how much I’ve enjoyed his poems in various magazines over the years, as well as his Nine Arches Press collection ‘Ways to Build a Roadblock’. I hope I didn’t distract Martyn Crucefix too much by sitting with my raincoat over my head. (Worse was to come – later on I noticed the whole square was crawling with police and demonstrators on an NHS rally, but no doubt the poets gamely carried on amid all the banners and ‘oggy oggies’.)
I was planning to get to a couple more readings in the afternoon, but I confess to a long lunch break in the pub with three poet friends, even though there was no food available, so it was just crisps. Then Peter arrived and after we’d been around half the exhibition decided we need to take a load off, so back to the pub it was. So there was only half an hour until the exhibition closed and I still hadn’t spent my poetry book budget, let alone visited all the publisher tables. By this time there seemed to be even more ‘two for one’ type offers, and I was starting to fear for the financial health of the publishers present. (“Three pamphlets for £11? Are you sure?”) Cue a bit more buying, and my feet were telling me to get them home rather than stay for the evening readings. This was my final booty (not including the various freebies which also found their way into my bag):
Goodness knows when/how I’m going to find the time to read them all, but the first pamphlet I started reading on Saturday night, Isabel Palmer’s Ground Signs, published by Flarestack, I have to say is stunning. I foresee a blog post about it very soon.
I was very sorry to miss the Royal Holloway MA Students reading, as poet friend Jan Heritage was among them. Sorry Jan, I was in the pub and lost track of time, a very poor excuse I know, but I hope it went swimmingly.
Very nice to meet & chat with Roy Marshall, Emma from the Emma Press, Jenny Swann of Candlestick Press (who produce the brilliant poem cards), Meredith & Jacqui from Flarestack, Davina Prince, Marion Tracy and many other lovely poets and poetry-related peeps. Huge thanks to Chrissy Williams and her team of organisers & volunteers. I sort of hope the event doesn’t get too big for Conway Hall, as it has real charm as a venue.
Next year I’ll try to have a bit more stamina and stay for at least part of the evening. Eating properly would have helped – one piece of cake, one cup of tea, two bags of crisps and a pint and a half of lager later, I was happy to get home to a proper dinner.