Thursday, December 13, 2007

Notes on the Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair

I thought I’d never reach the Christmas Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair last night. I left the house slightly late, due to family responsibilities, missed a bus and had to wait 25 minutes for the next one, which took ages to crawl through town. I arrived 40 minutes late, just in time to elbow my way through the bustle (really…) to the table I was sharing with HappenStance poet, Margaret Christie – we laid our pamphlets out and waited to see if we could sell any.

And the story of most of this event for me is one of sitting at a table. There were four sessions of live poetry – one poem per person, blocks of six or so poets – the usual mix of brilliance and hopelessness. I read Advice to the Lion Tamer on Becoming a Poetry Critic. Margaret read a really good haiku. Occasionally I got up from my table with the plan of leafing through (and perhaps buying) pamphlets on other tables but always got involved in conversations with people, so I didn’t get to read much of anything.

I met Rachel Fox, whose poems I had enjoyed in the HappenStance light verse anthology, Unsuitable Companions, which also featured my Lion Taming poem. She had produced 10 postcards, each with one of her poems on it, so I bought a set.

I ran into A.C. Clarke who told me that a sonnet of mine, The Long Stand, had been runner-up in the readers’ poll for best poem in a recent issue of Orbis magazine. This was news to me, but obviously nice to hear about. Thank you, Orbis readers!

I also bought Jo Gibson’s The Heart is Full, just out on Colin Will’s Calder Wood Press (Colin has also blogged on this event). I’d met Jo at StAnza 2007, the legendary night in the bar when famous poets like Ruth Padel and Daljit Nagra were singing Irish folk songs at the top of their voices in honour of St Patrick’s Day. It was nice to catch up with Jo again and I look forward to reading her poems.

I swapped my chapbook for one called Baz Uber Alles, by Kevin Cadwallender, who has recently moved to Edinburgh from NE England. He had read a very funny poem earlier (about an existentialist bricklayer – not in the chapbook), so I think his chapbook will be entertaining.

I asked a woman at one table whether she was interested in swapping chapbooks and she told me that she “had never thought about it,” as if a swap was an entirely new idea to her. She glanced at my chapbook and during our conversation, slipped it back to me. So I know now that “never thought about it” is clever-code for “no.” I have a policy about these things. If anyone suggests a swap to me, I always say yes. What’s the worst that can happen? I might get a lousy book in return, or the other person might hate my book. But there’s always a chance of picking up something terrific, which might lead to me buying publications by that author in the future. Everyone wins.

Surroundings got a few mentions at the event – Patricia Ace announced that everyone should read it so that they could find out what had happened at the event they had just been at (heh heh), Alan Gay mentioned it soon afterwards, and I’m sure there was a third mention…. Afterwards people asked me, “Are you the guy that does the blog?” I run these imaginary conversations in my head:

A: Are you the guy that does the blog?”
Me: Yes, and I write poetry too.
A: Well yes, but that blog sounds good.
Me: Thanks. This is my chapbook, The Clown of Natural Sorrow.
A: Uh… what’s your blog url?...

That didn’t happen. It was more like:

A: Are you the guy that does the blog?
Me: Yes. This is my card. The url is on it.

I sold 5 Clowns and 1 Unsuitable Companions (I only had one of those on me). Margaret Christie sold slightly more. Not bad really.

I have this fictional scenario in which, after this event, everyone goes out to a bar together and has a laugh. Actually, everyone gets into their cars and goes home, unless there was a secret bar that no one told me about. I waited on a bus – for ages again – and went home. A good thing probably, after all the red wine and mince pies at the event.

In any case, thanks are due to Tessa Ransford and her team for making the event happen. Perhaps we should have an International Poetry Pamphlet Day in which everyone buys a new chapbook. Or swaps one… Or at least reads one.


Rachel Fox said...

Ah ha...we could have swapped cards for pamphlet couldn't we.. but I have the money now so I'm off to the hills with it (or something..).
Lovely to meet trains were on time so I got home at 11.45 very worn out after a big city day. Had lots of bizarre huge life-tackling conversations on the train - material for a year's worth of poems on friendship, loss and life in those 2 hours alone. hoven met a friend of a was one of those life in a day days. I'm so often out with small child that I don't often have adult conversations that don't revolve around children. It made a nice change to be me-not mum for a day (unlike the fiddler's Dad who didn't seem to have a name other than Dad...he didn't care as long as the wine and mince pies kept coming I think).
Rachel F

Rachel Fox said...

Typo alert
that weird word should read 'Even'

Colin Will said...

Nobody offered swaps to me last night, but as it happens I have to pay the printer's bill. I was glad to catch up with Margaret Christie again - I was a former book indexer, as she still is. My only regret is that I couldn't really get away from my table long enough to check out the other stands. Santa needed a helper, you could say.

Rob said...

Rachel - don't worry, you can salve your conscience by going straight to the HappenStance site know what to do!
The fiddler was Alison Reeves. And yes, he was always introduced simply as "Alison's dad."
I'll add your blog to my link list.

Colin - you make a good point. I suppose a swap for you, and for other publishers, might be OK if you were fairly sure of what you were getting. Otherwise you shell out at the printer, swap a book you could have made money on for another book that turns out to be awful. You lose money and gain nothing. I guess swaps only work well between two writers, or when you're sure it's going to be worth the risk.

Unknown said...

Rob - that was really great about the Orbis vote - fair play. The rest of the evening sounds like it was great fun altogether.

I'd agree about the swap thing - I do it a lot myself, or if someone's supported me by buying, I buy their's - it's the way that poets can and should show their support... if more people bought poetry than wrote it... ;)

Jane Holland said...

Swops sound like a great idea but in reality, they can be a bit uneven.

I always seem to get the poet whose slim pamphlet costs about £3.50, while mine is a tenner - roughly £6.40 of which I have to put up myself per copy in order to carry a few to readings.

So a swop can be a lousy bargain as far as I'm concerned, not having a day job and so relying on the kindness of those who do have one to keep me in biscuits and shoe leather.

I like 'hoven' as a typo. It has an Anglo-Saxon feel to it. Like 'cloven' or even 'behoven'. Hwaet! etc.


Anonymous said...

Are you the guy that does the blog? It sounds grand - what's the URL?

Rob said...

Barbara - yes, I was pleased about the Orbis thing, and surprised, as I'd never thought that particular poem would have appeal.

Jane - yes, I'd never ask someone with a book to swap for my pamphlet, although sometimes people with books have offered to swap for my pamphlet - very nice of them, but the initiative has to come from them.

Anon - thanks. I asked for that. The url to hell is at the top of the page.