Free Verse: The Poetry Book and Magazine Fair
I recently attended Free Verse: The Poetry Book and Magazine Fair. This was held at Senate House, London, on the 22nd September and managed by the Poetry Society. An annual event, Free Verse presents itself as ‘an all-day bazaar, market, library, meeting place, performance venue, information resource and much more.’ Here publishers display and sell their publications, unmediated by a website or correspondence address. Conversations can be had face-to-face and this for me is one of its most appealing aspects. A series of readings, such as one organised by Seren Books was also a part of the event; along with workshops, such as ‘Putting Together a Pamphlet’ by Rachel Piercey.
As an Eyewear poet, it was great for me to be able to talk with my editor and the wider team who run the publishing company. Often a far better insight can be gleaned from meeting in person and asking questions about how the poetry business runs. It was also rewarding to see other Eyewear poets represented on the stall, to browse the pamphlets and collections and to patronise both the publisher and the poets through a series of purchases. It’s important to acknowledge how difficult it can be to keep a small press going and how important it is to buy poetry books: to show support for the creativity of poets and the hard work of the teams involved:
Given how non-remunerative poetry can be, there is all the more reason to endorse each other whenever possible, to approach events such as this, readings or other activities, with a welcoming and inclusive spirit. The vocation is not an easy one: it can be precarious, solitary and unforgiving. Purchasing each other’s books is part of that I think, and investing in these small works of art is, for me, one of the best ways to spend money.
Many poets, myself included, put so much in to an art form that rarely receives attention. Making a purchase is a recognition of their blood, sweat and tears, and a statement against the shallowness of other cultural products or consumerist pursuits. By supporting poets in this albeit tiny way, we are together trying to change the modern world.
Another feature of the event that I appreciated and much related to what I’ve said already was the non-hierarchical way in which the publishers and exhibitors were presented. There was no sense of one publisher being somehow ‘better’ than another and instead each seemed to enjoy its own status on a level playing field: stalls set out in alphabetical order with the same space and paraphernalia. This is how it should be, I think and for me places the emphasis on difference rather than kudos. Poetry is a broad church, as we know and what’s essential is the uniqueness of the press and how its ethos and style fits with the uniqueness of the poet. As with a good marriage, the relationship is about the match and how writer and publisher can both allow each other to flourish.