Despite the recession, a poetry book fair can work wonders for publishers and browsers alike
"Something positive emerging from the recession" – this was one of the many online responses to a book fair held last year in Clerkenwell, London, for poetry publishers to present their work direct to the public. Not only was there chat and putting-names-to-faces, as well as some music, the amount of hard cash forked out for books surprised everyone.
Book fairs are hardly new – they are pre-internet, almost pre-history – but they might have been invented for 2012. Bricks-and-mortar bookshops are closing down; the internet is wonderful, but it doesn't allow you to pick up a book and browse before you commit to buy. A surge of small presses, enabled by new printing technology, need to get their books known about but are thwarted by the traditional distribution methods. And, as mainstream publishers tighten their belts, the dividing line in terms of quality of work between the books put out by the big name publishers and those from smaller ones has become increasingly porous.
Fifty publishers will attend this year's Free Verse fair, and there will be free readings through the day. The poet Christopher Reid will open the show, and there will be rare editions for sale from the Gaberbocchus Press (1948–79). Knowledgeable sellers, curious browsers and books on a table between them: it's an ancient formula, but it still holds good.
• Free Verse 2012 is on Saturday 8 September at Candid Arts Trust, Torrens Street, London.