Tuesday Poem: In the Poetry Pavilion at the London Book Fair

For the first time at the London Book Fair there was a Poetry Pavilion.  It seems scandalous that one of the world's biggest book events has not had a dedicated poetry slot until now.  For quite a few years the big publishers, who dominate book fairs, have not been publishing poetry - Faber is one of the few - and the small presses, who specialise, just don't have the money to book spaces.  This year the poetry distributor, Inpress, who handle distribution for small presses, booked a big area, designated The Poetry Pavilion, with smaller booths for individual presses, and organised a programme of events across all three days of the Fair.
The London Book Fair is vast - this is only a very small part of it.
It was my first time at the LBF (authors haven't exactly been welcome either, until recently) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.   Emma Press - a new and exciting development in poetry publishing - were there, alongside Carcanet, Seren, Valley Press, Penned in the Margins and Nine Arches.
Emma Press and Valley Press, sharing a stand.
The Canal Laureate, poet Jo Bell, was there to launch her new collection - Kith - and, despite a barrage of noise from the surrounding stands, managed to give a brilliant reading from it.  The competition was fierce!  Jo has recorded some of the poems on SoundCloud, which you can hear without the literary Oicks of the LBF quacking in the background (a reference to the ducks in what is - possibly - her most notorious poem).

Sophie Hannah was also launching her collection, Marrying the Ugly Millionaire (Carcanet), with similar disadvantages.  Next year the Poetry Pavilion will have to get a better sound system, or a quieter location.

It was a place to chat to people (the Poetry Society's Judith Palmer was there) and make new friends. This is Deborah Hodgett - poet and blogger @ The Beautiful Music of Words.

There was a Mexican theme at this year's LBF and, as well as launching a new edition of Octavio Paz, contemporary poet Pedro Seranno was reading from his new bilingual collection Peatlands (Arc).  There were also readings by Simon Barraclough and Sarah Hesketh, who read from her new collection The Hard Word Box, which was written from a residency working with people suffering from Dementia.  This was one of the readings I enjoyed most.
Simon Barraclough, watched by Judith Palmer
One of the most interesting events from my point of view was a panel discussion with Michael Schmidt of Carcanet, looking at poetry publishing, both past and future, and the role of the editor. Michael takes a 'forestry ecology approach to publishing', believing in cultivation for the long term. This is a rarity in a contemporary industry that increasingly looks to short term profits.  I was fascinated by some of the things he said, particularly about editing.  The editor, he believes, should not be led by his/her own taste, but should publish a wide variety of poetry which they believe to be good, even if they don't like it. He talked about e-books, which currently account for only 4% of total poetry sales at the moment.  Most of the sales are for second copies to be carried around on e-readers by their owners.  This rang true for me - I buy poetry collections on paper but the ones I love I also have on Kindle.

Michael asked some awkward questions.  One of them was about university creative writing programmes. Are we churning out poets faster than we are churning out readers?  He also questioned the ominous trend for the Arts Council to fund poetry on a book by book basis, rather than funding the press itself. That puts the Arts Council firmly in an editorial mode, which Michael thinks is unacceptable.

One of the other panels with Jane Commane (Nine Arches Press), Tom Chivers (Penned in the Margins), Amy Wack (Seren) and  Sheila Bounford (Inpress)
I had a wonderful three days listening to poetry and to poets and editors talking about poetry. Can't wait for next year!

And then  there was wine ........


  1. Such a generous, interesting though no uncritical post about your experience. I have avoided it so far, thinking like you that writers are rather in the back row, Now I think I might give it a try next year. wx

    1. You definitely should, Wendy - it's time that authors were given a more generous spot - after all, if it wasn't for us, there wouldn't be a book fair!!

  2. This sounds wonderful, Kathleen, and the discussion thought provoking. And the whole gig long overdue, as you so rightly point out.

    1. I wonder if you have something similar in New Zealand, Helen?

  3. loved this post. The whole thing sounds amazing!

  4. Great to see this shared here. Wonderful to hear your insights and experiences -- and certainly some poets to discover!


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