Last weekend Burning Eye headed to Conway Hall in London for The Poetry Bookfair put together by Free Verse. If you’ve never been to a poetry book fair, it’s a bit like a cake sale but with poetry books. We were very pleased to be returning to the fair after having a year out last year.
In comparison to our last trip to the bookfair, the Burning Eye showcase was drastically more populated (in 2014, there were four people and a dog in the room and the dog was the by mistake). This year the room was packed with people wanting to hear performances from our featured poets Jemima Foxtrot and Saboteur Award-winner Emily Harrison. Laurie Bolger was unfortunately ill and unable to perform so I read a few poems from #BoxRooms on her behalf. (It was actually an effort not to slip into a west London twang when reading!) We were pleasantly surprised by the turn out and even more surprised at how many books we sold throughout the day – much more than any other year. Is this because spoken word and performance poetry are starting to make waves and the keepers of ‘good poetry’ are starting to pay attention to this art form? We think so. Kate Tempest’s (the gateway poet) name cropped up several times in conversations with people who stopped by the stall and it was nice to see some engagement in what we had to say and sell. Many ‘oh I didn’t know you publish this person!’ and ‘I’ve HEARD of this poet’ and similar comments throughout the day gave me in the impression that spoken word and performance poetry are slowly receiving some validation from traditional poetry outlets, which can only be a good thing for the future of modern poetry and for us, of course!
We are always interested to know how our poets get on after they release a book and what difference it makes to their careers. After our showcase, Emily and I snuck off to the pub to have a chat about how she’s been getting on.
Emily and I order rum and sit in the pretty pub garden and I ask about the moment the first box of ‘I Can’t Sleep Cause My Bed’s on Fire’ arrived. She describes how after picking it up from the local off-licence (so fitting) she took it back to her place, opened a bottle of wine and laid them all out in a decadent display. She describes how this was the moment that had driven her through the long process of putting the collection together. We talk about her book launch which took place a few months after the initial release date of the book because Emily was finishing her teacher training. She cleverly coincided the launch with her birthday in July so that all of her loved ones would have to turn up. All her friends chose a poem to read, and I spy that Emily’s copy has messages scribbled in from each of them next to their chosen poem which is a really lovely thing to see. The launch doubled as a fundraiser for MIND (mental health support) and Refuge (domestic violence support). It was important, Emily explains, that her launch raised awareness of mental health as so much of her book tackles the stigmas that surround this topic. She also gave out Time to Change information, another mental health organisation that Emily has collaborated with. We talk a little more about the stigmas around mental health and she tells me that the book is dedicated to her friend Josh who took his own life, which is why she also used her launch to raise money and awareness for CALM. Emily is creating conversations and breaking down stigmas with her collection, and by it’s obvious popularity, this platform is relevant and really needed.
We move on to talk about poetry life after the book. Emily talks about how great it is to have something tangible to pass on to people and we discuss how having a book to sell on is a great extension of your usual twenty minute set; how it’s a great tool for sharing and starting conversations on subjects featured in the book. Emily mentions that having a book is a confidence boost – that her writing is validated and she can afford to slow down a little now that she is getting steady gig offers. We briefly touch on the possibility of doing a book tour in the future.
The rum is getting dangerously low so we wrap up by discussing Emily’s favourite poem from the book: ‘Go home and Stop Grinning at Everyone’. This is the last poem and is a nod to all the characters (amalgamations of people in real life) in the book who have taken something from her along the way. It is a personal sign off by a vulnerable and headstrong author which ensures that she has the last word.
A long but a really great day was had at The Poetry Bookfair. A big thank you to Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly for organising another successful event without Arts Council Funding this year. It was lovely to catch up with publishing pals from all over including Sidekick Books, Happenstance, Nine Arches Press, The Emma Press, Proletarian Poetry and Lunar Poetry Podcasts. Special mention to Rebecca Robinson from Inpress and Eleanor Livingstone of the Stanza International Poetry Festival.