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Free Verse at Conway Hall

Up to London yesterday for the The Poetry Book & Magazine Fair aka Free Verse, at a new time of year (February rather than September) and back at Conway Hall.

Recently I’ve been plagued by headaches so after getting off the train I decided what I needed was a nice fresh(?) air walk across London from Victoria to Holburn.  It’s almost a straight line if you don’t mind the crowds – Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus,  Shaftesbury Avenue – but of course I tried to be clever by diving down side streets and avoiding tourists or shoppers. This always means a few poor decisions and at least another ten minutes to the journey. But it’s often serendipitous. On Savile Row I passed a blue plaque announcing ‘The Beatles played their last concert on the roof of this building’. A few streets later I came across Marshall Street Baths, a 1930s building now restored and reopened as a public leisure centre in a most unexpected location in Soho. I remember visiting it when I was working for Nike in the 1990s, to assess its suitability as a venue for a fitness event. In the end we went with Seymour Leisure Centre in Marylebone, another historic old ‘baths’ (of the type mostly disappeared from our towns) now brought into the 21st century.

I love walking around London and discovering quirky, lost or almost lost sites. Author Paul Talling’s ‘Derelict London’ walks are a must if you’re into this sort of thing and within striking distance of the city. I’ve been on a few of them – but you have to book months ahead, as they fill up within minutes of his posting them online. Subscribe to his email alerts and you’re given a day’s warning so you can be ready on the dot of 9am to hit ‘buy tickets’. Paul’s site is fascinating and labyrinthine, but you can sign up for his emails here if you’re interested the walks.

You may wonder what this has got to do with poetry, but in fact it segues very neatly into a little pamphlet from Tamar Yoseloff’s Hercules Editions that I picked up yesterday, called Formerly. It was the first pamphlet from the press, and a collaboration with photographer Vici Macdonald. Vici’s photos of London’s derelict buildings, ghost adverts and Victorian boozers were the prompts for Tammy’s sonnets. Doorstep sellers, ‘Sweeney’-style low life, barmaids and the dead are some of the voices in these poems, as the poet imagines the people inhabiting these nearly-gone and semi-lost places.  It’s accompanied by a pull-out guide describing the locations, and Vici’s and Tammy’s accompanying notes. Fascinating. I admit I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and Hercules specialise in gorgeous covers – fab fonts, spot varnish and gold leaf abound! The press’s latest publication is Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs, which I also bought and am looking forward to reading.

Here’s my haul from yesterday:

Books from Free Verse the poetry book fair

During the afternoon I was helping Jeremy Page on the Frogmore Press table, now becoming a bit of a tradition. Next to us was Andy Croft of Smokestack, with whom I had some fascinating conversations about the ethos behind his press, communist poets, mutual friends such as Peter Raynard, and the like. I covered for his table when both he and Jeremy were on a break, and managed to sell two books and two copies of the Frogmore Papers. I’m not sure I did so well the rest of the afternoon but it was a flying start!

As ever, the Fair was as great chance to catch up, meet for the first time or just wave ‘hello’ to lots of lovely poets including Abigail Parry, Carrie Etter, Susannah Hart, Briony Bax, Tamar Yoseloff, Jess Mookherjee, Sarah James, Jinny Fisher, Liz Bahs, Joolz & Hilaire, Rishi Dastidar and Davina Prince. If I’ve left anyone out I do apologise. It was also nice to chat with people generally while on the Frogmore table, including some people who turned out to be non-poets but just come in to browse and check it out. Which was fantastic. It was quite a crush all day, but I did feel it was the friendliest Free Verse I’d been to so far. Huge thanks to the Poetry Society for their organisation of the event.

I’d like to give a shout to Jeremy Dixon of Hazard Press and his intricately-made books. At a past Fair I’d bought three of his ‘micro books’, this time my eye was drawn to pocket-sized pamphlet called Caught by a Wave, which opens out into two concertinas featuring found black and white photos and overprinted with words that repeat and overspill (rather like waves I guess). Some of the print is overlaid in blue foil. Jeremy explained that he tries not to buy new material but to use what he has already collected. Each booklet featured sightly different paper stock or colour of cover. I have number 21 of 40. A collector’s item! I was also sorely tempted by My Nineties Madonna Scrapbook, but that will have to wait for a future fair, if it’s not sold out.

caught-by-a-wave - Hazard Press

Conway Hall is an iconic building, home of the Ethical Society and venue for all kinds of events. Yesterday the Main Hall was crammed with poetry people and books, but the balcony provided a quiet place to take time out. Also a good place to take pictures.


Free Verse 2020

Free Verse Poetry Book Fair 2020

When the Fair ended, I was due to meet a friend for supper in Crystal Palace, that’s deepest South London to those not in the know. I was supposed to walk to City Thameslink station, but took a wrong turning somehow and ended up walking all the way to Blackfriars and catching a train from there. So it was definitely a ‘see London’ day yesterday.

I actually bought two copies of Formerly by Tamar Yoseloff and Vici Macdonald and to celebrate a lovely day at Free Verse I’d like to give one away to one of my blog readers. Just leave me a note in the comments telling me why you’d like it, and if there’s more than one I’ll put the names in a hat and draw a winner.

Published inBlogBooksEventsInspirationPamphletsPlaces


  1. So good to see you and thanks for the shout out!

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks Briony, good to meet you too!

  2. Sounds like you had a good day Robin. Thanks for the mention. I was sad to have missed it this year. As for the copy of Tamar and Vicki’s pamphlet as I’m interested in the form Hercules takes – a partnership, imagery and use of different form; I have a copy of Chris McCage and Sophie Herxheimer’s pamphlet on Blake. Best wishes, Peter x

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Peter, sorry not to see you – yes I have that pamphlet also! Actually the one book I knew I wanted to buy at the Fair was Chris McCabe’s ‘Triumph of Cancer’, but when I reached the Penned in the Margins table they had sold out (even though I’d asked them on Twitter that morning to save me a copy – boo!) Hope all is well with you. R x

  3. Jill Fricker Jill Fricker

    Loved this blog Robin – I quite deliberately meander around London pretty much whenever I go there (one of the joys of freelancing). It’s a great city for walking miles, discovering the sort of ‘treasure’ you have mentioned, and LOTS of coffee shops (another joy of freelancing). Plus . . . it definitely helps creativity, if not a whole poem, maybe an initial idea, a line, a thought to be explored further . . . I’ll definitely sign up for Derelict London!

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Jill – yes, ‘tired of London = tired of life”?! See you soon on a Paul Talling walk 🙂

  4. Very much enjoyed this blog and the photos. I particularly liked your mention of Jeremy Dixon. We met on a course at Ty Newydd a few years ago. I have his “In Retail” by Arachne Press. I’m exploring a joint project with a photographer, so the pamphlet might give me some energy and inspiration!

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Fokkina, thanks for commenting … Jeremy was so enthusiastic and clearly loves making his books! All best, Robin

  5. I would have loved to come to this – I had such a good time at this event last year when it was at Senate House – and bought ALL the poetry pamphlets and subscribed to ALL the poetry journals.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Marina – yes I think we met at the Senate House event? You must have a deep pocket to subscribe to all the journals and buy all the pamphlets! I find it a bit overwhelming actually, but nice to pick out some books on a whim and see what you’ve got when you get home…

  6. Cheryl Capaldo Traylor Cheryl Capaldo Traylor

    So happy you had a wonderful day of poetry and exploration. Sounded lovely.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Cheryl! It was a super day for sure 🙂

  7. Hello Robin – thanks for a lovely blog about Free Verse! Your photo of stall holders + Ceri on stage making poetry pages is amazing – would you be happy for us to use it if we credited you properly? Many thanks – Julia

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Julia, yes of course, and thank you!

      • Julia Bird Julia Bird

        thank you!!

  8. Rosie Barrett Rosie Barrett

    Rosie here. Not sure how I eventually got here as I seem to have forgotten both my username and the password. However, here now, and, very late to the party but if you haven’t already given away ’Formerly‘ by Tamar Yoseloff and Vici Macdonald. I would be delighted to give it a good home. I get lost regularly in London and have memories of bomb sites with London Pride on the twice a year we came all the way from North Bedfordshire, down the Great North Road to a ‘show’ – only seen these days in old black and white films.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Rosie
      Welcome! Thanks for your interest in the pamphlet, although actually the draw has already taken place and the winner is (drum roll)… just teasing – I’m about to write a blog post in which I’ll spill the beans. Anyhow, thanks for visiting and who knows there may be more giveaways anon…

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Robin Houghton 2021