Free verse

Posted by Ken Edwards on Friday, September 16, 2011 Under: Reality Street

On Saturday week - 24 September - Reality Street will take part in a poetry book fair at Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London. The remarkable thing about this is the range of presses and organisations taking part - see above. From Anvil to zimZalla, from Enitharmon to Penned in the Margins to, well, Reality Street. And Mike Horovitz is opening it.

Those reading this from outside the UK without first-hand experience of the stratification of British poetry may have little idea how unusual this is. For decades, the exclusion of modernist and experimental poetries from mainstream communication channels has been absolute, so that the average well-educated consumer of the "quality" press, for instance, would have little idea who Tom Raworth, Denise Riley, JH Prynne, Roy Fisher, to name a few, are, even though a significant number of poetry readers would include them among the most prominent poets this country has produced in recent years. At the same time, these aficionados of what I once called the "parallel tradition" - more like a parallel universe - would automatically disdain to read poets published in recent years by Faber, Cape, Peterloo and other mainstream presses.

And it's fair to say both groups studiously ignore as beyond the pale slam and performance poetry, which is probably the most popular grassroots phenomenon around. All of which is probably a function of the class system in England (particularly) - but I'll leave you to decide which groups are the aristocracy, the middle class, the intelligentsia and the peasants.

There are signs that things have been shifting slightly in recent years, though, and the Free Verse book fair is one of them. It's the brainchild of Charles Boyle, publisher of CB editions, a small press that, ironically, doesn't publish that much poetry but concentrates these days mostly on off-beat prose. CBe is unusual among small presses in that it has access to the mainstream - two of its poetry books have made the shortlists for this year's Forward Prizes, about which I wrote so disparagingly the other week, and its website carries impressive endorsements from The Guardian, The Independent, the Sunday Times and Poetry London. Charles himself has been published by (and worked for) Faber, and it is to his credit therefore that he is not content to bask in establishment cosiness but is open-minded and energetic enough to reach out to presses of all persuasions and get them to take part in his venture - which I hope will be the first of many.

True, you won't actually see Faber and the other handful of big publishers participating at Exmouth Market, but perhaps if the event is a success they may be persuaded on future occasions? Now that would be interesting.

Well, as I said, Reality Street will be there. James Davies (also there representing If p then q) will be reading. I have a hectic week coming up - performing twice with The Moors over the weekend (a wedding on Saturday, an open-air festival in Hastings on Sunday), and then a family bereavement means I'll be shuttling between Hastings, King's Lynn and London over the coming week. (But at least my improving achilles tendon means I can shuttle.)

In : Reality Street 

Tags: "poetry book fair" 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at