Jun 03

The Chapbook Solution

Former student and friend, artist Tony Renner, actually prepared pocket-sized booklets of poems and handed them out free on Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 18, when we are all supposed to carry a poem around and read it to people and discuss it. Cool idea, and perhaps the future of poetry.

Those of you who've written many poems: Have you considered making of them and marketing a nice portable chapbook? Most every poet can winnow from his or her work at least 16 or 20 very good poems (usually a maximum of 24 actual pages), and it's all the better if they have a common theme. I did this recently for a client whose chapbook came in third in a national chapbook contest just three months after the chapbook was assembled. The poems came from his full-length manuscript. The chapbook poems share a theme and are all of excellent quality.

Those of you with completed manuscripts you're trying to publish: It feels good to have two manuscripts circulating. If you publish the chapbook first you can use the poems in your full-length book. What you probably can't do, unless all rights belong to you, is winnow a chapbook out of an already-published volume. That's recycling, anyway. You can write a new chapbook: all you need is to create 16 to 20 good poems, maybe on a theme, or maybe a poetic "cycle." That could be fun. So often, poetry is not fun. A chapbook is!
Jun 27

Chapbook or Magazine Publication? Which is Best?

Real life-question: Poet has a sheaf of excellent poems, all unpublished. Should she skip ahead & enter them as a manuscript in a chapbook competition -- or first try to print individual poems in journals, and THEN do the chapbook thing?

Answer: No journal wants to publish poems that appeared first in a chapbook. I'd try first to publish individual poems in as many local print journals as possible, setting a deadline of one year; then -- no matter what the result -- I would make a chapbook ms. Local journals will further your work much faster than will national publications. How so? See next blog entry. Send to 'em all. Don't enter contests, just send the poems. And send simultaneously!

Think you have some good poems? Get a bunch of them out to your local journals by Dec. 15!
May 08

Chapbook Renascence

Not so long ago -- about 15 years -- a "real" or "serious" poet wouldn't be caught DEAD issuing a chapbook. Only losers would try to preserve their work in little stapled, spineless booklets! Because desktop publishing as we know it did not exist, the booklets were either hand-set or photocopied. That was the extent of alternative publishing -- the only way for poets to take publishing into their own hands. A book reviewer back then, I swatted chapbooks away like flies. I saw them knee-deep at secondhand bookstores. Well, things have changed and chapbooks are important now.

Cherry Pie Press since 2005 has published a series of poetry chapbooks by Midwestern women. They are beautifully produced and the poetry is hot and it keeps coming: Three new books this year. A friend of mine, Pamela Garvey, won a chapbook contest last year; her chapbook is titled Fear (Finishing Line Press), and each copy is threaded through with a satin rattail ribbon, different colors: mine is wine-red. Poets with traditional publishers will issue chapbooks if they've got some work that's too edgy for the suits. Ted Hughes issued 110 copies (that's all!) of a chapbook titled Howls & Whispers (1998), 11 poems from the Birthday Letters series that he, or somebody, thought were too edgy to publish in the regular book. In a rare-book room I read copy #75. Online I found a deluxe edition for sale that costs USD $27,500. Mostly, though, chapbooks are a heck of a lot more affordable than normal books of poetry, and they're mostly meat, very little gristle. A book of 20 or 30 poems that are ALL good is positively intoxicating.

I'm even urging chapbook publication on poets who have lots of good poems but not enough for a full-length manuscript, or who have full-length manuscripts they can't publish. Chapbooks can be handsomely made, even at home, and circulated and sold, mainly at poetry readings, but also through flyers, local bookstores, and the Internet.

And as far as I can see, no poet today is ever sorry that he or she issued a chapbook. Poets, consider it. And maybe it's time for some fiction or nonfiction writers to do it too.
May 05

Stealing Poetry

True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.

Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.

This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from Creativecommons.org.

Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!

Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.