Last night was, as Tessa Ransford reminded us, the 7th Edinburgh Pamphlet Poetry Fair, now run under the aegis of the National Library of Scotland. It was a really nice evening, with wine (for those not driving), mince pies and nibbles. I didn’t do a count, but I reckon some 30-odd publishers had tables, and there were readings from some 20 poets. The readings were ‘samplers’ intended to whet the appetite of buyers, and, certainly in the case of Calder Wood Press, it definitely worked. Both Anne Connolly and Jayne Wilding read expressively, and the sales of their books reflected it.
A lot of the time, however, it seemed to be poets selling to other poets, publishers to other publishers. Of course, in a small community like ours, we’re all bound to know each other, and it’s natural that we want to support our friends – I bought several good publications I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It would have been nice, I thought, to have had more members of the general public attending, browsing, listening and reading. I’ve no idea how we might manage this, but we’ve been preaching to the converted for so long that’s it’s about time we (poets and publishers) thought about how we might engage with the unconverted.
Another thing I noticed was that the age-range of the audience was, shall we say, skewed to the higher end of the bell curve. Not for the first time I find myself saying, “Where are the younger poets, the younger audiences?”
I hope this doesn’t sound too negative – goodness knows we need to be positive about the poetry business we’re involved in – but there is a constant need to inculcate a love of poetry in the next generation, and to reach out to the poetically non-franchised. Only then will poetry take its rightful place as part of the mainstream of our culture, and not a worthy but inessential eddy.
It was however, as I said at the top, a very successful event, and I enjoyed it hugely. It was great to meet up with old friends, and to make new ones – including fellow bloggers. I think what characterises independent publishers like those of us who exhibited last night is belief – self-belief for the self-publishers, and belief in others for the multiple publishers.
One of the best communicators in the poetry business is Kevin Cadwallender, of Red Squirrel Scotland. He was the Poet-in-Residence last night, composed a poem during the readings, and let us hear it in the final reading session. It was fantastic.
I’m now trying to decide which of my 2008 titles to enter for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award – I picked up my entry form last night. And I’m away to write a poem about mice pies, having noticed an interesting typo in my first draft.