Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chapbooking: some reflections

Kieth has an interesting post on the intricacies of chapbook production -- a guide for the DIYers. One thing though: for Sky of Ink, I downloaded a chapbook template from the League of Canadian Poets website, here. Downloads are free for anyone. We were able to alter its configuration to take legal sized pages folded in half, which is a size I like for poetry, as it provides "breathing room" especially for long lines. (It does limit, though, one's choices of paper.) The nice thing about this template is that you paste the poems in sequentially and it automatically recto-versos them for you in the right order. Then we take the file to our local copy shop and presto!

Chapbooks, as Keith says, can serve as a poet's business card. They're the literary equivalent of the music EP.

The chapbook length, as I've said elsewhere, is to my view the most suitable for poetry, considering the intense demands poetry makes on its readers; one can conceivably get through a chapbook in one sitting. The full length trade book demands a considerably greater a commitment. Was it Thorton Wilder who said that out of any city we create a village we call our own? Most poetry readers dip into collections; it could be said that out of every full-length collection, we create a chapbook we can call our own.

Besides, look at the organization of many a poetry collection: a lot of them are simply subdivided into parts -- a series of chapbooks.

For all its advantages as a reading experience, the chapbook in our culture has a problem of status. It is akin to the part-time job. Full-length books, like full time jobs, get all the benefits: reviews, prizes, inclusion in libraries, etc. -- even though part-timers may put in the most inspired work! (I know that's true of teaching, at any rate.) In the States particularly, there are a number of chapbook manuscript competitions with promise of prize $$, honour, publication -- some of these may even raise money for their publishers. You can find them listed every month in Poets & Writers. But there are precious few prizes for finished DIY-type chapbooks. The BP Nichol competition is one; the WCDR international chapbook challenge, in which our own Nina Bruck came out a winner for 2008, didn't run this year and appears sporadic, if not defunct. These are the only ones I know of. Can anyone out there suggest another?

Another disadvantage: chapbooks tend to get lost on a shelf.

So why make chapbooks? Well, these productions are a joy to make, and a means to grow. Publishing is an integral part of the creative process: juxtaposing poems in fresh combinations, seeing how they relate to one another, or how motifs repeat can be a real eye-opener. Ones' editorial skills are instantly honed when one prepares one's work for public exposure in this way. If one doesn't have a tradebook publisher ready to publish one's work, this can be a good intermediate step.

1 comment:

Keith Wilson said...

Thanks for the link! I've linked to you as well.

These are great points. I suppose I never actually voiced it, but I agree that chapbooks are one of the best forms of collecting poetry. I had never considered that this was in part due to the demands of poetry itself, but I think this is definitely true. I tried, recently, to read through a large collection of Langston Hughes (the only time I have ever tried to read through a book of poetry all at once) and it was quite a different thing to do than reading a novel, even a very cerebral one.

And yes, chapbooks are easily lost. I actually bought a nice box from a flea market that is almost exactly the right size for chapbooks, and I keep mine in there, right beside my bookshelf. Problem solved!