Monday, October 10, 2011

What is a chapbook?

Chapbooks were originally small, inexpensive books sold from street carts by merry olde English peddlers called chapmen. From the 1500s through part of the 1800s, these little books, on a variety of topics, were so cheap that once their owners read them, the pages were often used as “bum fodder” (toilet paper).

Today, modern chapbooks have risen in status (most certainly from bum fodder), and are a popular method for publishing poetry. Running only 40 pages or fewer, chapbooks are shorter in length than a perfect bound full poetry collection, and are usually saddle stitched with staples along a folded spine.

Many new poets who may not have written enough poems for a full collection might get more immediate exposure through a chapbook. Also, poets who write a series of poems that connect with one another, or are all on the same or loosely related theme may opt to get a chapbook published.

There are dozens of poetry chapbook contests each year offered by small press or university publishers. Many presses may opt to publish at least part of their output as chapbooks rather than full collections due to tight budgets or, conversely, to be able to publish more poets! Contests are often the vehicle toward chapbook publication in order for all entrants to help contribute toward the manuscript that will ultimately be chosen. This custom is very common and totally acceptable. Chapbook contests also offer presses a way to scope out new or original talent they may not have been exposed through the full collection submissions they receive.

Poets may also prefer to publish a chapbook themselves. With the use of page design programs, clip art, stock photos and speedy printers, a short run of chapbooks doesn’t cost much and can serve as a “calling card” for poets who seek featured readings at local venues, and finally have a way of sharing (and selling) a printed selection of poems with friends, family and fellow poets who’ve been asking, “Where can I find more of your poems?” ◦

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

My favorite and recommended reference book on writing poetry: The Art & Craft of Poetry by Michael Bugeja

The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja (Writers Digest Books). When reading this book, chapter by chapter, how come I feel as if this fine-poet-with-a-funny-last-name is sitting right next to me, giving me a private study on ways of poetry. By the time you reach the end of this highly readable guide, you may feel as if you’ve gained an MFA in poetry writing, if you take what Bugeja (pronounced as if “bluejay-ah” but without the “l”) says to heart and apply his principles to your own writing.

He covers how to approach styles of poetry from love to nature, and from political to occasional. His guides and examples for writing form poetry are accessible and first rate. He puts a lot of himself in the book, which makes his experiences come alive to the reader as the “show” rather than the “tell,” of what could instead be a lecture.

There’s much to relish here, so I recommend taking it slowly and experimenting with your own poetry as you progress. Bugeja makes complicated subjects clear and easy to grasp, and helped me as he mapped out the vital differences between narrative, lyric and dramatic poetry that I now share with my own workshop participants, for example. ◦