Author of the Week / 18 October 2023

Ediciones Indómitas & Feria del Libro Madrid

Author of the Week: Spain – Madrid

In ancient Greece, poetry was not meant to be read but heard, and poems were transmitted by word of mouth and passed from town to town, from generation to generation. Later, after the invention of the printing press, poetry, just like other types of texts, was no longer copied by hand but printed. And with the newfound ability to produce books en masse thanks to the printers, publishers and booksellers, new audiences were reached. The following five centuries were marked by major milestones in Spain, the emergence of such literary avant-gardes as the Spanish Siglo de Oro, Romanticism, free verse, the Generation of ’98, the Generation of ’27 and the Generation of ’50.

In the past, books were made with materials as diverse as clay, wood, ivory or the papyrus plant. Later, book covers were made from parchment and animal skins. After the invention of the printing press, books were no longer unique handcrafted objects, and over the following centuries, printmaking techniques improved until a standardised process was established. These days, there are an infinite number of materials to choose from for book printing.

Books can either be a means or an end. Nowadays, there exists a broad consensus in the publishing world that one of the very first decisions a publisher must make is to create a visual identity for all the books that they are going to publish, regardless of the book’s author and content. And most publishers do so, books thus being only a means, a necessary object, but not an end.

Alternative movements have always existed. The so-called avant-garde, or vanguard, is defined as a feeling of disconformity with reality and the state of the art, a disruption, experimentation, originality, freedom of expression and provocation. The publishing vanguard in Spain originated in the 20th century alongside the first literary and artistic European vanguards and is responsible for the development of visual poetry, with leaders such as Joan Brossa, books, such as those by Antonio Gómez or Isidoro Valcárcel Medina, magazines such as La Lata, or La Más Bella, American-style fanzines and libros cartoneros, artisanal books bound in recycled cardboard, first produced in Buenos Aires to help children who collect cardboard from the streets, and exported to Spain and many Latin American countries.

Arrebato started as a fanzine in Barcelona in 1999, and evolved into a bookshop opened in Madrid in 2004. Since then, it has combined second-hand books, first editions and out-of-print books with non-conventional, self-published and artisanal publications.

POETAS is a festival started in Madrid in 2005, with several chapters in Latin America and one in New York. Focusing on oral, visual and performative aspects of poetry, POETAS has had 17 editions so far. Since 2018, it has been a proud member of the European poetry festival network Versopolis.

Because the supply of published books is infinitely larger than the demand, the situation calls for product types that do not rely on an outdated system that only benefits intermediaries, but on one that also benefits book authors and readers. POETAS therefore pays special attention to the work of publishers that do not follow these standardised processes in production and distribution. They are referred to as the Indómitas, and POETAS organises a special book fair for them: Ediciones Indómitas.

Fabio de la Flor, founder of the Delirio publisher and an official member of the POETAS festival, defines the Indómitas as ‘those who are hard to restrain, to tame. Publishers from here and there that expand the concept of the book and teach us that there is no book that cannot be made if the publisher is willing to transgress the limits.’

The Madrid Book Fair is one of the most important national events in the book world. However, after 82 years, due to internal regulations, publishers are still expected to be part of an association and to publish a certain number of books per year to participate. This made it impossible for the Indómitas to participate in the fair.

Eva Orúe, Director of the Madrid Book Fair, states that ‘the Book Fair is home to many publishers. In its 2023 edition, we welcomed 32 publishers with fewer than 79 published titles, 70 that had between 80 and 198 published titles, 97 that had up to 699 published titles, and 74 that had over 700 published titles.’

POETAS believed that an event of this size should not exclude the Indómitas, that not following the fair’s standards did not mean the Indómitas were any less interesting to the visitors. The MBF, in turn, believed it was a great opportunity to reinvent itself and reach new audiences.

Thus, by working as a team, we managed to organise the first appearance of the Indómitas at the Madrid Book Fair. We were only there from 26 to 28 May, but the Indómitas had their own space in the centre of the Paseo de Carruajes in the Retiro Park in Madrid, alongside the stalls of conventional publishers, and was met with enthusiastic reactions of over a million visitors on the fair day.

To be able to showcase, at an event of this size, the work of 25 national and international publishers who break out of the mould and believe books to be an end, not only a means, had a great emotional impact on the public, and maybe even inspired them. We believe this will help publishing houses and the poets they publish, whose work is usually found in specialised bookshops and fairs, become more visible in the community.

The first appearance of the Indómitas at the Madrid Book Fair was an occasion where creativity, innovation and new narratives came together. It was a unique opportunity to get to know national and international presses that explore alternative forms and formats. The initiative’s MBF debut was covered by the most important news outlets in the country, radio stations and the press, putting the work of these poets in the media spotlight.

Poetry, just like other arts, is constantly evolving. To say what is and what is not poetry, what is and what is not a book, who or what is better, or worse, is to limit creativity and the evolution of poets, artists and publishers all around the world.

POETAS and the Indómitas believe that they, we, ought to be a channel of expression for the carefully selected poets and publications that appeal to us on account of their modus operandi, innovativeness or the quality of their writing. In a sense, the first appearance of the Indómitas at the Madrid Book Fair meant a return to the origins of both poetry and books. On the one hand, poetry reverted to its oral roots, favouring the voice over the paper. On the other hand, it helped publications that do not shy away from innovation or the use of non-conventional formats and materials to continue to be made. We believe this can make books unique handcrafted objects once again.


Pep Olona

Pep Olona is the coordinator, curator, and ideologue of Arrebato Libros from the beginning, ​​​​a project that in 2023 celebrates its 20 years, and who runs the Arrebato Libros bookstore in the heart of Malasaña.

Publisher of scenic poetry authors, with more than thirty titles published, and Manager of scene poetry shows of his authors.

Organizer and coordinator of 16 editions of the POETAS festival, he also works as a curator for parallel events of poetry, music, art and performance, and occasionally he participates in poetry anthologies and national and international conferences.