Sunday, November 25, 2007

Expozine

It seems that whenever you enter into a new field or indulge in a new form of creative expression, you soon find yourself in the midst of an overwhelming crowd of others doing much the same thing, putting to a severe test any sense of originality or impact that may have excited you in the first place. Expozine was no exception. Once we spread out our wares amid more than two hundred tables of other small and self-publishers, zine- and trinket-venders, the vast majority of them just from the area of Montreal, it soon became obvious that it would be a serious challenge not only to sell a copy or two but give our freebees away. Like nearly everyone, we brought at least three times as much stock as we actually needed, for the sake of display and just in case of some wildly improbable, dream-like demand. With a techno back beat pounding from overhead speakers, and the crushing throng of browsers, it soon became obvious that what would catch people's eye was the eye-catching, the novel, the cute, what would bring on exclamations of "That's Neat!" I think the guy who packed away the best sales on the floor was a maker of not books but leather belts: I'm sure he sold at least a half a dozen of them. So much was on hand it was hard to focus on anything, let alone read, absorb, assess.

And yet, this blaring marché was unpretentious and fun, the direct relationship between makers and buyers refreshing. A number of the venders had such marvelously eccentric wares that it restored, in a strange way, my faith in humanity. It was amusing to see what kinds of people noticed our table at all, and what elements in the crammed, enormous smörgåsbord caused them to notice us. My Guatemala & Other Poems -- it looks like it was printed yesterday although it's nearly 13 years old -- caught the eye of one sensitive-looking young fella (he turned out to write poetry himself), who leafed through it, put it down, but came back an hour later in a rush to buy it, exclaiming it had made his day (and for sure, he made mine.) One young woman really took to Nina's book, claiming she loved its title and austere, graphic-free presentation -- refreshing, she felt, in the context of so much eye-popping stuff. (I think she was as unusual in this regard as the book itself.) We were happy to cut both these people half-price deals because it seemed sure they would read them. I traded Francisco's book with Ann Diamond for her collection Terrorist Letters, but also bought My Cold War from her -- the context for these transactions was already created by some lengthy dialogue on this blog, and it was really enjoyable shooting the breeze with her in person once again. The owner of Véhicule, a major small press publisher, came to our table and bought Nina's book after I purchased David Solway's Reaching for Clear. It was fun chatting for the first time with him -- he recognized me and I him from other literary events in town -- and it turns out he knew Nina and was delighted we had pushed her to finally publish. Small world, of course, that of Anglo literary publishing in Montreal. The place soon became packed to the point that the multitudes had difficulty making their way, and ten minutes before closing time, there was scarcely a sign that things were coming to an end. At the end of the day, we made back our costs and then some, and came away with a real sense of success. Too bad I forgot to bring my camera to do a little photo-journalism. That'll have to wait till next year, when we're likely to rent a table for two days.

3 comments:

R. W. Watkins said...

Yeah, it's the same old story: Everyone's an artist, no one's an art lover. The intelligent and well educated are the producers, the ignorant and unsophisticated are the non-consumers. The serious, underground literary world of North America has become a 'nation of shopkeepers'...without any customers.

Brian Campbell said...

Yes, Rob, but one is infinitely better than nothing, so it was surprising even to me how gratifying it was to attract even the few consumers we did. When the plate is empty, a couple of crumbs feel like a birthday cake.

R. W. Watkins said...

Well put.