Monday, 20 April 2015

London Book Fair: Poetry, Mexico and Tequila

The Mexico pavilion at the London Book Fair, Olympia, April 2015.

After several years of working in and around publishing in London, I finally made it to the 2015 London Book Fair (now at Olympia) last week. I spent a full day there on Tuesday and also returned near the end of the day on Wednesday. I was there for work purposes, but given that my publishing work involves a bit of everything from editing to sales to permissions to literacy issues, I had a pretty open remit, which obviously suited me quite nicely. In practice it meant that I traipsed happily around the entire LBF at least two or three times, went to several fascinating and relevant seminars and meetings, and also had some time for poetry matters.

I caught up briefly with George Szirtes, who was part of a very interesting panel on 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing and Reading in the Digital Age', along with Julio Trujillo, James Knight and Mauricio Montiel Figuieras - these writers are known for their Twitter-based literary explorations. Later on, I finally met Jo Bell, who I knew from online mainly through her inspiring 52 project and who was releasing her new collection, Kith. She talked about her Canal Poet Laureateship and her reading from Kith was bold and bright, which was much needed because we were in a very loud environment with no amplification... (perhaps something for LBF to think about if they do another Poetry Pavilion again?)

The country focus for LBF this year was Mexico, which was of particular interest to me as I have a growing interest in Latin America and have been working on my Spanish in the last couple of years - and I have also been to Mexico, although it was a long time ago and very much as a tourist. The country focus meant that many publishers from Mexico exhibited and I browsed through many interesting poetry collections and other books.

On my full day I also went to 'An Insight into Contemporary Mexican Poetry', which featured the poets Pedro Serrano and Tedi López Mills, reading their work and in discussion with poet and novelist Adam Foulds. Pedro Serrano read poems such as 'Serpiente' (Serpent) and 'Regents Canal', while Tedi López Mills read from her novel in poem form, Death on Rua Augusta. López Mills called poetry "a very significant way of being insignificant", while Serrano spoke of how there are "different ways of touching poetry, but at the same time with connections". In terms of influence, López Mills mentioned that Mexican poetry is very influenced by the French poetic tradition. Serrano pointed out that in Latin American terms, Colombia is generally more artistically conservative and Argentina is more adventurous, while Mexico finds itself somewhere in the middle. It was a very illuminating discussion and the poetry was great. 

On Wednesday, when I returned late in the day, I went to the launch party for Carcanet's re-release of the Collected Poems of Octavio Paz. I have been reading and admiring Paz increasingly in recent months, and there was also tequila and good conversation (one no doubt assisted by another). Also, I discovered that if the tequila has been flowing, publishers will probably start to just give you books.

 The deadly combination of tequila and Octavio Paz - London Book Fair 2015.

My final LBF event was on the Thursday at the Saison Poetry Library, where I attended another reading by Tedi López Mills organised by Modern Poetry in Translation and the British Council. López Mills gave some more insights into the incredibly intriguing Death on Rua Augusta, which I just had to buy. It is not just poetry but a perspective-shifting film noir-type narrative, set in Fullerton, California - according to López Mills, "a place where no one would pay to go." "Poetry is always on the defensive, always encased in barbed wire, afraid of getting hurt," she commented. Whatever the case may be, this poetry is taking a bold stance, and I can't wait to read more of it.

London Book Fair, Olympia, April 2015.

All photos by Clarissa Aykroyd, 2015. 

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