As always, I leave the small press fair, or any other trade show for that matter, feeling strangely liberated, and with a head full of thoughts.
For those that may not know, the Toronto Small Press Fair is held twice a year, once in the spring, the next in the fall. It is a great venue for small publishers who make chapbooks, literary quarterlies, and even trade-size books. ESR has always been a bit of an anomaly at the fair, simply because no other vendor sells a film-related publication. Sometimes I fare better at this function than others for that reason. I do not mean this disparagingly, but perhaps because after so much fiction, poetry chapbooks, and cute little buttons, they see this publication and they either investigate with bemusement, or head to the hills.
Although I do not consider myself a literary person by any means, I do however feel a kinship with the familiar faces, whom I see twice a year (more often than my relatives). Every person there is doing this thing, though great adversity, because they have a voice, and want to share it. By the way, what I mean by not being a literary person is, that I do not keep abreast of the latest books, or have an idea of what people in the underground are doing, nor do I attend readings (and in Toronto, I could fill my calendar with plenty of those). The word means a great deal to me, but nonetheless I consider myself tertiary to the literary scene because I do not publish fiction or creative writing. The time I have at my disposal barely affords me to publish my own thoughts, let alone keep up with others'.
Before I continue with my experiences of the day, I want to share one thought about the small press fair which has stayed with me for years. In the fall of 2002, which by the way was the greatest showing I've ever had at this particular venue, another writer said to me afterwards over a beer that the small press fair represents the Toronto underground. But since that point, I have pondered, just what exactly does this mean? It's a loaded statement, that can burst into many different colours.
Very early in the day, I was reminded of this thing called the underground. I made a donation to Pen Canada, an organization which works to free people from behind bars for their political beliefs, especially in an unfree country. This group is a classic example of the true definition of what it means to be an activist, a revolutionary. Yes, it's a liberating thing to publish a little rag yourself and sell it, but that is basically foreskin compared to the real picture. These are people who are fighting tooth and nail for their beliefs- this is the real battle, this is the real sacrifice. Whenever I hear some creative person bemoaning over the pain of being an artist, I dismiss the comment as superficial self-serving nonsense. The true pain is not in creating a voice, it is in having that voice shut involuntarily.
My good friend Gordon Phinn was selling his new book, "Eternal Life and How to Enjoy It". However at his table, I picked up a chapbook entitled "A Counterblaste to Canlit", which was his bestseller. Basically, it's literary criticism done with far less kindness than the usual politeness that this country accords. He later asked me why I bought it. I had not seen the book before today, but the title intrigued me so I asked him about its contents, and thought it would be a good read. He seemed surprised that I bought it. I'm not sure why- yes, because I'm a film guy, I may not get all the literary references that he makes in it, but when I can I like to learn more about literary history, as I do plan on reading that great wall of books in the back room... some day.
The table next to me was rented by author Giridhar Verramaneni, who was selling his book "Enjoy the Journey", which is a collection of short stories. When I bought his book, he asked me if I was sure I wanted it. Perhaps because we had been chatting the whole day, maybe he felt I was doing it to be nice. But the truth is, his description of the stories on the back rather intrigued me, and what bits I did read while leafing through it were quite lucid, thoughtful.
Grant Wilkins had #10 of his "Murderous Signs". His is one of the publications which I always make a habit of picking up whenever it comes out. I really have to admire this guy- he is a happy example of why people like us do what we do. Twice a year he publishes this digest-sized chapbook, pays his contributing authors for their trouble, travels from Ottawa to Toronto, to give it away for free! This alone is a nice gesture, but what has always attracted me to his publication is how disciplined it is. The writing is razor-sharp- he takes the time to put in only the best that is sent to him. (His contribution to the magazine is usually an interesting editorial in the beginning, followed by poems or short stories from contributors.)
Today I had the good fortune of seeing my old friend Tim Norton, whom I have not seen in person in ten years. He had tracked me down on the internet a few months ago, and ironically this was the place where we finally managed to see one another again. Also, Simon, my partner in the pilot, dropped by, and I freaked him out by telling him I picked up DR. DEATH in Honest Ed's last night. I was nicely surprised to see Dan Vandermolen, who used to PA and AD for us once upon a time, stop by. It's for moments like these that makes the fair worth attending every time. Although other vendors had mentioned that it was a rather quiet day (a noticeable number had cleared out early), I didn't do too bad, actually.
Ultimately, even on bad days at trade shows, I leave feeling somewhat liberated, as though I was part of something. Twice a year, I nod or exchange hellos with strangers who nonetheless have familiar faces (we all being to recognize each other before long!), and leave with the collective feeling that I have played a part in an invisible community of strangers -vendors and customers alike- who are looking for something that can only be found in this rented room.