By Leaves We Live Book Fair at The Scottish Poetry Library

Wow.

I couldn’t talk much afterwards, and I hadn’t been there for long. I didn’t attend any of the workshops that the library had put on. I just walked around. That’s all I did.

Perhaps that’s all I needed to do – to see these things, to experience them. That seemed more than enough for me. It was a small step into a world I hadn’t encountered before. Of course, we get the odd pamphlet or two in at work; published by small local presses or self published and though they stand upright and are often healthily bound it tends to be more of the same. Cheap paper and cheap inks. Glue bound and staples. Badly photo-shopped/drawn covers. Some are fine of course, but rarely do we get something truly wonderful in. Maybe that’s why the ‘By Leaves We Live Book Fair‘ had such a profound effect on me. I’d gone expecting more of the same, and was going more for the words inside the books than the books themselves. I ended up being delighted two-fold.

There were tiny two-page affairs, larger card-sized rough cut booklets, thick perforated business cards to the more book-sized thicker standard publications, some with folding pages and intricately cut paper-pockets, some watermarked and decorated with coloured layers of various papers, bound with soft cottons – intricately wound nooses and loops, miniature bows. There were fold out books that would open into large posters of a poets work, rich with thick bold print on some kind of waterproofed paper.

In one corner kids typed furiously on a series of typewriters, punctuating the hushed mumblings of the stall holders and visitors with sharp clicks and dings, laughter and finger fumblings. The typewriters belonged to Barrie Tullett of The Caseroom Press, and sat alongside a exhibit exploring the world of typewriter art which I found most interesting!

Keira Rathbone ‘Gramophone’ (From WIRED)

I find myself increasingly interested in the spaces between poetry and visual art forms, whether painted, animated, hypertext or otherwise.

A Humument - Tom Phillips (from Humument.com)
A Humument – Tom Phillips (from Humument.com)

There was also a great deal of Edwin Morgan’s work skittering about, which was great to see on display, as well as work from other poets/artists I hadn’t encountered before: such as Pierre Joris, Antonio Claudio Carvalho, and Chris McCabe which really got me thinking about the spaces which poetry and writing in general might occupy in the future. Concrete poetry is still a very new area for me, as are the other visual mediums, so it was brilliant to find such items exhibited in a place where I could just stand and take them in as they were, with plenty of time and space.

Yet, what was probably most encouraging and exciting (for me) was the content of the pamphlets available. The poems would zig-zag and swirl, knock letters from the pages and onto others, explore non-linear arrangements and alternative typesets. Non of this was necessarily new – but what was brilliant was how these publishers were really proud to show that these things can be printed. Almost every stand exhibited poetry that explored the space of the page. Some explored ranges of colour. Others were more art-orientated; layered, folded, cut and glued into fantastic shapes. I found myself thinking back to conversation I had with a colleague at the UEA about my more exploring poems which he claimed couldn’t be published for typographical/structural reasons, and here I was standing in front of a number of stalls that were publishing things far more intricate and complex.

Perhaps I’m simply naive. Perhaps I’m simply late-coming to the poetry pamphlet scene. Certainly it wasn’t heavily discussed at either the UEA or Aberystwyth, nor have I talked with many others outside of academia about it. I simply assumed you submitted to magazines when you could, entered competitions when you could, and then when you had a good body of work with some poems published in magazines to back you up, you could start poking publishers. Or maybe they come to find you? The business area is still very foggy to me. I guess I should read up on it!

For example, I had a conversation with a lovely old lady looking after one of the stalls about poetry pamphlets. My intention was to try and find out more about how someone gets involved with pamphlets – does it have to be some sort of business orientated thing? Is it more the-average-consumer based? Are there middlemen/women? I had so many questions, but couldn’t seem to find the right words. Perhaps I was too amazed by the items I had seen there. The fine craftsmanship. The appraisal of concrete poetry, of abstract forms.

I must learn more about poetry pamphlets – if someone would point me somewhere, I would be most grateful!

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