Sunday, 9 September 2012

Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair report, now with added Brum

Going to book fairs with a stall involves a succession of targets:
1) Come back with less books than taken. This is not easy as although Five Leaves provides my living, book fairs are where you see a lot of books rarely seen in bookshops, published by colleagues and friends of yours.
2) Make enough money to pay for your stall hire and train fare. Exposure and a nice time is one thing, but the office budgie needs its seeds.
3a) Make enough money to pay for the early morning taxi to the station, the cup of coffee at the station, the sandwich bought from Pret a Manger at dinner time, the coffee and sandwich on the way home, the late night bus, the two books that got damaged over the day, the ones that now need pensioned off because after a few stalls nothing looks pristine...
If there was a 3b) it would be to pay something towards the time involved in a day long trip plus packing and unpacking, and the general overheads of the press but somehow that never happens.
4) Get some exposure and have a nice time.
A day out at yesterday's Free Verse Poetry Book Fair in London organised by CB Editions certainly achieved many of these aims. I caught up with old friends, met some new and interesting people and sold 16 books. It didn't reach the giddy heights of 3b but I'd have gone anyway and though the day is long it is hardly working down a coal mine. With 54 stalls - probably, as Charles said in the programme, the biggest gathering of poetry publishers ever there was a lot of competition for sales so I'm pretty pleased with 16 books. I know some people did worse, I know some people did better. And it was busy. There were a few readings, including Andy Croft having six minutes to represent the whole of Five Leaves output in a joint session with Smokestack and Hearing Eye (a set of poetry's left wing) but the emphasis was on books, books, books. What was hugely encouraging was the wide age range of those present, with many, many young people, diligently working their way round the stalls. Impressive.
The stalls themselves ranged from the serious and professional (think Carcanet) through to hand-crafted pamphlets in a cardboard box set ( but mostly somewhere in the middle. One stall was giving away slices of freshly cooked ham, carved off the bone, with a small glass of red, with every purchase. The smell put me off, so I never found out who they were*, but made me think that next year the veggies need to fight back. Free peanut butter sandwiches with every purchase from the Five Leaves stall? Yup that'll do it.
There was of course time for old hands to have a ritual moan about the Arts Council, it's what we do, but this was seriously undercut by the Arts Council support for the day, which enabled CB Editions to pay the fares of out of London presses. And this meant many presses that could not have afforded a train fare and stall hire were represented. So as well as being the biggest gathering of presses, this was probably the most representative, with people from Manchester, Norwich, Edinburgh, Hastings, Bristol, Bridgend - everywhere, really, including three from Nottingham. This reflected the thought that had gone into creating a great day by Charles and Chrissy at CB Editions. I am sure 54 publishers and many hundreds of people are grateful to them.
PS - returning to my first point, I rather meanly only came home with two new books - Notebook in Hand, new and selected poems by John Rety (Stonewood) and Still Life by Gordon Hodgeon (Smokestack). I'll post about them both later.
* Later - it was the Scottish publisher Happenstance, chums of ours!
PS - Charles Boyle has written his own blog about the day, on

And the next day the indie presses of Birmingham had their second book fair. Pippa from Five Leaves was there:

"The Five Leaves Elf put on her Five Leaves T-shirt and toddled off to Birmingham yesterday, armed with three boxes of books and a float composed almost entirely of pound coins and coppers (thanks boss!)... After navigating the strange streets almost successfully, she berthed the Thunderbug in a car park which has no lifts. Oops.
Last year’s Birmingham Independent Book Fair took place in the depths of Digbeth, and didn’t attract a huge number of punters. This year, in contrast, we were in the Council House, right in the city centre. There were various Olympic celebrations going on in the square, and I think in the building itself, so there were plenty of people trickling through the lushly carpeted room packed with publishers and booksellers. At some points the room was so full I couldn’t see the stalls opposite.
There may have been related events going on throughout the day, but I didn’t get to go to any as I was flying our stall solo – the pressure! the responsibility! I sold 22 books, which Ross tells me is a good number. This included several books I hadn’t expected to sell (Cotters & Squatters, Jazz Jews, Rock'n'Roll Jews) and all four copies of Maps that I’d taken with me. Interesting... I’d thought fiction would sell better than non-fiction at such events, but I’m not sure that it did. Several people showed interest in our Palestine-related books, and I had a long chat with a young woman who’d done a Jewish Studies degree at Southampton University ‘just because she found it interesting’. As far as I could tell she wasn’t Jewish, and had no connection with the Jewish community.
All in all it was a worthwhile day for Five Leaves, and we look forward to next year’s Fair. Congratulations to Jane Commane of Nine Arches and everyone else involved for making it a success."

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