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Books at the festival

by vh Van Gennep bookshop on June 18th, 2010

(c) Pieter Vandermeer/Tineke de Lange

For the v/h Van Gennep bookshop, the Poetry International festival doesn’t begin on 11th June but a few months earlier. Ever since the bookshop’s first days in 1978 we’ve had a book table at the festival, but we still experience each festival as vibrant, new and exciting.

We discuss the year’s themes with Liesbeth Huijer: the poets, their collections. After that we start the Big Collection. We get in touch with dozens of publishers around the world, we call and email, make arrangements, discuss quantities, delivery dates, we negotiate, call again, and again and then wait. Sometimes the publishing house turns out to be defunct.

Then the shop slowly begins to fill up with parcels and boxes full of poetry. Some of the collections arrive in the Netherlands for the first time, others are familiar to our shelves. From 10th June onwards we walk back and forwards to the City Theatre with our trolley. The first boxes are unpacked and neatly laid out on the table. And, just as their books have done, the poets begin to gather in Rotterdam. The festival can begin for us!

And so we stand behind a table of poetry collections with poetry fans leafing through them. From time to time they’ll be distracted by a curious robotic plant, but they are chiefly there to see the poetry. Poets drop by and discretely check out where their books are. Fans are made happy with that one small book, imported from Peru. Presenters are surprised to see their books here too. And we cherish one customer who has a charming ritual: each year, every day of the festival, he buys two books.

We change our stock every day, but there are a few highlights already:

The Spoon River Anthology, thanks to the poetry theatre set up by students of Artez academy. Collections by Antonio Gamoneda and Thomas McCarthy, thanks to their impressive readings. De dieren in mij (now being reprinted) by the cheerful Flemish poet, Delphine Lecompte, winner of the C. Buddingh’ prize; and Eugenijus Ališanka has won fans too.

We are able to quickly reorder some of these fastsellers. Contact with P. publishing house in Flanders has been particularly intense. On Friday we’ll get more boxes from Belgium. As far as we are concerned, Van Gennep has made a new friend!

The festival atmosphere carries over into the daytime. We chat with tourists from South Korea, who would like to be photographed next to the poster in the bookshop window on the Eendrachtsplein because they have recognised their alphabet, and are amazed at the interest Dutch people are taking in their poetry. But the statue of the giant gnome on the square, dressed since Saturday in a knitted yellow jersey, looks on contentedly. He knows that Poetry International festival has always been curious about other countries.

Carlien, John, Monique

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