Small Publishers Fair
By Amy Tighe
Friday 28 and Saturday 29 October 2022: Conway Hall, London
The Small Publishers Fair is an annual, independent, self-funding and not-for-profit celebration of books by contemporary artists, writers, composers, book designers and their publishers. It has the joyful appeal of a car-boot sale but crafted specifically for book lovers. It seems fitting, too, that instead of being in a muddy field, it's in the sombre splendour of Grade 2-listed Conway Hall, during the still-enjoyable part of autumn, when it starts becoming vital to stock up on beautiful, tactile books that will demand attention as the nights creep ever longer.
Pandemics notwithstanding, the fair has run since 2002, when it was first set up by Martin Rogers of RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications) and since 2012 has been run by Helen Mitchell, who has been involved in the world of small press publishing since the early nineties, when she worked with Coracle Press. Now, when it is celebrating its 20th anniversary, nearly 300 publishers have taken part in Small Publishers Fair. With some of the smaller presses sharing tables, each year sees around sixty five publishers. The website is also a goldmine, with a calendar of similar events throughout the UK, as well as links to libraries and collections that house copies of publications by the SPF participants.
It feels like Longbarrow Press are determined to immerse their readers fully in each experience, never content to “just” sell a book, their past live performances included poet Matthew Clegg reading thirty poems from his collection Edgelands – a sequence of poems adapted from the classical Japanese tanka form; psychogeography presented in a matchbox format – punctuated by tapes of street noise manipulated by writer Brian Lewis, and a lo-fi treatment of Andrew Hirst’s The Snail Drunk, utilising four dictaphones, two cassette players, a toy microphone and a length of string. If I had to sum up the far-reaching ambitions of Longbarrow Press, I can see no better evocation than This is a Picture of Wind, their book inspired by the 2014 winter storms of England – a wind that lifted your hair, wet your face, made itself known and left you changed.
Elephant Press is a small press of collaborative projects created by Clare Whistler and Raphael Whittle, including Wild Correspondings, an eco-poetry source book based on a correspondence course during the first lockdown, in connection with the rewilded Horsham Knepp estate.
The tantalising JOAN Press, a new publishing project for contemporary interdisciplinary writing, champions feminist, queer and idiosyncratic voices, and innovative fiction. You’ll have to fight me for the last copy of Miss-Communication by the always-engaging Joanna Walsh, a choose-your-own-critical-theory adventure investigating language, autonomy, creativity and gender identity; Paul Becker’s How We Made ‘The Kick Inside’ which is written from the perspective of Kate Bush, detailing the production of her remarkable first album; while Lucie McLaughlin’s Suppose A Collapse is part-memoir, part-prose, as the narrator shifts between Belfast and Madrid, where she meditates on her relationship with her mother, absent father and extended family.
The joyful Clod Magazine, the print iteration of Luton's fun-rock band The Knockouts, produce whatever they darn well feel like. This results in refreshingly bonkers titles such as Bob's Deep-Freeze Inventory wherein Bob records the contents of his freezer (now on its second run) and no less than five (and counting) Luton Haiku volumes.
From outside the UK, there is a bounty to choose from. Zinzinule Editions, founded in 2019 by Lyon-based artist Géraldine Dubois, produces artists’ books exploring connections between art and poetry, photography and poems. Five female poets produce starkly beautiful artworks of poetry and photography, across French and English.
Litteraria Pragensia Books (LPB) is an independent imprint based in Prague, which published its first title – Petr Škrabanek’s Studies in Finnegans Wake – in 2002 and specialises in the areas of contemporary poetics, literature, critical theory and cultural studies, publishing well-known names such as Žižek, Bataille and Apollinaire, as well as the international poetics and arts magazine, VLAK. Recent releases include Trans*Migrations: Cartographies of the Queer, a collection which ponders the use of the asterisk of “trans*” as a “wildcard operator,” giving it the potential to transition between the categories of transsexual, transvestite, transgender.
The last Fair I attended, I brought home what became one of my most prized possessions – a velvet-flocked limited-edition chapbook of short prose and poetry called prodyourheadwithastick. Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP) is a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts and books by artists. Partially aided by volunteers, it has transformed from a 1990s zine into a mission-driven small press that has published more than 400 titles to date, and produced countless prints and ephemera. With a strong preference for emerging, international and forgotten writers, UDP’s books, chapbooks, artist’s books, broadsides and periodicals often contain handmade elements, reminding us of the labour and history of bookmaking.
Come with your sturdiest tote bag, as much cash as you can reasonably part with (although they also take cards) and maybe your own mug for a discounted tea or coffee as you browse the stalls.