The host of the new Free Verse: Poetry Book & Magazine Fair (thanks to The Poetry Society!) was the University of London, in an enormous building opposite Russell Square built in 1936. Senate House, vastly beautiful, was regarded as the pinnacle of modern architecture. The Art Deco felt like an odd mix of Stalinist communism and Baz Lurman’s adaption of The Great Gatsby (which I was absolutely taken in by).

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The hall the fair occupied was thankfully larger than the one at Conway Hall, which meant more elbow room, and a fortunate lack of bum-rubbing with strangers in the isles! Grateful for an end table (my legs are long and I fidget), I was delighted to find that we were next to our publishing friends Verve Poetry Press, who were at the Fair for the first time this year. This was a wonderful instance because I did the fair alone this year, and it’s always nice to have friends close by to help watch your table if you need to pop away for a few minutes! The stall was run by Verve poets Hannah Swingler and Casey Bailey.

 

The Fair overall was really lovely, nice to see familiar faces and I even managed to do a Poem of the Week recording with the brilliant Lunar Poetry Podcast, who have a new anthology out with Verve, by the way! It’s great, grab a copy immediately. Burning Eye also took over the reading room this year with Amani Saeed and Sophia Blackwell, reading from their 2018 collections. Anyone that has met me will know that I am not a quiet person, and always one to go off mic where I can which seemed to shake everyone up and prepare them for the performance poetry we were showcasing. We sold a good number of books, and lots of subscribers to our mailing list!

On a bit of a negative note, and this is not to attack The Poetry Society, but rather the attendees, specifically those who come to the Fair each year with out-dated attitudes.  Burning Eye are used to being snubbed by folk who don’t consider what we do to be literary, but this was more about me as a woman. I experienced various patronising comments throughout the day, including men not believing that I am the editor of the press. I was asked questions like ‘Are you Clive’s relation?’ ‘Is the publisher around?’ and ‘Oh, you publish these books do you?’ and several comments were made on my appearance and my age. My favourite remark: ‘How do you get any work done with hair like that?’ took the biscuit.

So to clarify. My hair, my body, my choice of clothing, my piercings and tattoos are no one’s business but mine. I am a professional, and I am the co-editor at Burning Eye Books. My appearance has nothing to do with how well I produce new poetry, or how valid our press is. No body should be made to feel uncomfortable whilst they are working. Do not try to undermine the enormous achievements of women in poetry and publishing. Open your mind, not your mouth. 

Despite this, the day was a success. Thank you to everyone who put their time in to organising The Poetry Book and Magazine Fair this year, it was a busy and long day, but really rewarding and I’m glad to have picked up a few excellent purchases from Bad Betty Press, Forward Arts and Ambit Magazine! Already looking forward to next year!

Bridget Hart

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