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A day at the (Poetry Book) Fair

poetry book fair 2013

Having answered a call for volunteers on Facebook, I found myself yesterday at Conway Hall in London, donning a blue badge and helping out at the Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair.

Organised by Chrissy Williams and CB Editions, with a lot of help also from Joey Connolly, the Fair is in its third year and apparently bigger than ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was quite a crush – and with something like 700 visitors through the door and 50 or so publishers present, I felt nervously close to the epicentre of the poetry world.

When it comes to events I quite enjoy having a job to do, because otherwise I tend to turn up, wander around, not dare to talk to anyone and leave with a sensation that everyone else knows each other and I don’t know anyone. Actually I still felt like I didn’t know anyone, even though I blatantly did – the ever-friendly Mike from the Poetry Society plus several poet friends including Hilda Sheehan, Marion Tracy and Harry Man. I had very nice chats with many of the publishers and by the end of the day had minded shop for Amy from Seren Books and Sophie from Inpress. I even sold a book for Inpress (thanks, Marion!) I introduced myself to Nell Nelson from HappenStance and discovered a poetry press in my own home town that I’d never heard of. Who’d have thunk it?

I nearly bought quite a lot of stuff but in the end restrained myself. On the Templar table I fell for Matt Bryden’s Night Porter, which has got me thinking seriously about how I might group up some of my poems around a distinct theme and enter them for the Iota Shots pamphlet comp.

Then I spent £3 on a set of 4 microbooks from Hazard Press, witty confections and utterly not what I ought to have been buying, but I couldn’t resist.

On the Roncadora Press table, artist Hugh Bryden told me about the processes involved in producing their beautiful publications, all hand-made. I was so, so tempted by Nest – the photo on their site does not do it justice, the whole thing is a wonderful work of art, and they were selling it for just £6. Blimey, that can hardly have paid for the paper.

Astrid Alben

After the publishers had packed up and left, everyone moved over to the pub for an evening of free readings. Although I didn’t stay for them all, I did catch an enjoyable short set from Astrid Alben, reading from her Arc collection Ai! Ai! Pianissimo (memorable or what?) and later on, with a whole army of young male fans in tow, Chris McCabe who read in tandem with Jeremy Reed from their Nine Arches Press publication Whitehall Jackals. Read his blog post about the making of it here. Sorry about the rather grainy pics by the way.

chris mccabe

Chris was the highlight of the evening for me. I loved his poetry and both he and Astrid were readers with real presence – something that’s hard to define and probably impossible to teach, but you kind of know it when you see it. All in all an enjoyable and inspirational day.

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  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Robin. I’d wanted to go the Fair but a series of unfortunate broken household appliances prevented me. I really enjoyed your account – ’twas almost like being there!

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Robin Houghton 2024