Thursday, June 29, 2006


The Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692
Leo Bonfanti
New England Historical Series
Pride Publishing
Wakefield, MA

This 63 page volume offers a concise and yet thorough account of the final witch trials in America, those taking place in Salem in 1692. As told by Leo Bonfanti, a writer of several volumes of New England history, all in the same format, this book holds the weight of those matters without pandering or offering sweetened explanations. The cover art depicts the moment of one of the celebrated denouncements of one of those "witches". It’s a well made volume. Certainly not poetic intentionally, I could see Susan Howe using it as source material for some future work of hers though.

Stephen Ferry
Back East Press
In association with The Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective
Philadelphia, PA

34 pages, Yellow cover with red lettering for the title – Devour – this collection of confessional work is dedicated to the author’s friends, all of whom, it seems, still live in Los Angeles since none of these poems connected at all with me. Published in 2003, perhaps the author has written work about Philadelphia now. I look forward to THAT collection.

A Germantown Sequence
Robin Hiteshew
Irish Pig Press
Philadelphia, PA

This tiny sliver of a book, 12 pages, in a handsome dark-green cover was produced in 1996. A gem of a collection about a section of the city often overlooked by writers but instrumental to the development of the city and the nation’s early growth. Home to a literate German population, there was a printer who created a German-language bible in this area. Stated in one of the poems within. There is much and deep history in these 12 pages of verse.

I wasn’t around when this book came out. I don’t know how it was greeted by the city’s literati but it really should be on every Philly bookshelf, alongside Daniel Hoffman’s Brotherly Love and if one can find it, The Literary History of Philadelphia by Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer published in 1906. Thanks to you, Robin!

Half My Own and More Someone Else’s
Alice Ginsberg
Hopping Bunny Press
Philadelphia, PA

Alice Ginsberg self published a series of chapbooks in the early 1980s of which ‘Half My Own and More Someone Else’s’ was among the last. 26 pages, with a photo of author at a reception in front of a collection of her other books; these poems have the feel of a much older poet than the one who wrote them.

One can only wonder what might have become of her as a poet, since shortly after bringing out this collection, she retired from poetics for a career in the Humanities followed by motherhood

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Framework by Jeff Vetock
© 1991
Axe Factory Press Phila., PA

The copy of Framework by Jeff Vetock was number 121 of 200 printed. The front cover sports an abstract image in the style of Mondrian. The poet and publisher worked together to create a chapbook that merges visuality with text that in their appearance on the page mirror the visual element throughout. It should not surprise the reader that Vetock quotes Gertrude Stein at the beginning of the book. A mere 20 pages, this collection is stuffed with thoughts, ideas, and sensory ticklers. As well the books has nice paper stock, and is in good condition. I like a well made book.
There are a number of collages throughout the text, all uncredited as is the front cover art. It is possible that all the art came from Vetock but I wouldn’t want to assume. I feel fortunate to have found a copy of this – a true merging of talents by poet and publisher. I wonder how many copies are still floating around?

Mindustrealization by Carl S. Kaucher/ "untitled" by Candace Kaucher

Midustrealization & "untitled"

I believe that trees should not be sacrificed in vain.
In the future, if I feel the efforts of the publisher or self-publishing ‘poet’ are not worth the paper that they are printed on, I will say so : SAVE A TREE

These two are the first use of this adage.

A Portable Bridge
(Poets’ Groove #11)
Sebastian Petsu
Self published Phila, PA

Sebastian Petsu is a multifaceted artist who has dabbled on putting down poets and stories as well. This volume marked the writings of his 2002 trip across the country to Oregon. It was printed in Feb. 2003. Red cover stock paper with twisted photo images on front. A great self-made effort. Another interesting chapbook of text with images. I especially like the piece ‘October 1969 (or 1999)’ . Very Cool.

I see a bright future for Sebastian.

chainbreaker : your favorite bike zine
new orleans, LA
2003 (pre Katrina)

In 2003, a group of New Orleans writers stopped off in Philadelphia on their way to New York. For them it was a roadtrip of writers hawking their considerable wares. Among the items was this 8 3/4 X 7 inch silver covered bicycle zine called ‘chainbreaker’. It’s very good. It’s a self-created publication and looks cheaply made. But the stories and ideas are solid and useful for any urban cyclist. Edited by "Shelley", this zine has more of a regional flare to it than a strictly New Orleans vibe.

Sadly, the city that produced this zine has been remade by Katrina and we can only hope that the writers succeeded and escaped the storm intact….with or without their 10-speeds.

till next time

Thursday, June 15, 2006

from poet & publisher Lou McKee


Like what you are doing with the chap-blog -- but when I tried to respond I was told I needed to create a blog or something -- it is too complicated for me.  I will happily read what you are writing, though.

A broadside is a single sheet sometimes printed on two sides)

A pamphlet is a single sheet with multiple folds (two to sixty self-contained panels) -- and printing can be on both sides

A chapbook is -- above all else -- a book.  It has a cover.  Even if the cover is indistinguishable from the inside pages in weight, color, texture, etc.  Inside the cover there must be a page at least (hence two sides, even if only one is printed upon), otherwise it is simply a folded card (a broadside or pamphlet).  There is no "outside   limit" as to the size of a chapbook, but 46 pages seems as though we are in "book" territory.  A major aspect of the broadside is its production.  They are often, if not usually, published in limited editions -- there are famous examples of single copies (more likely considered book art projects) and twoers or triplets.  Maybe most runs contain 20 to 200 copies.  Often these runs are numbered, assuring the collector of the true limitation.  This is important.  Numbered and signed is often a further limitation -- the sets/groups that are most limited are worth the most.  Last but not least, there is method of production: hand operated letterpress operations are costly because of the time and energy that goes into producing even a single handbound copy.  Many of these productions, books, are works of art.
The value of anything comes from its limitation, how many (or few) exist.  And over time, fewer and fewer survive -- no matter what we are talking about.  The "nice" artsy chapbooks, signed and limited, are probably all being taken care of.  The elusive more chaps are those which were mass produced and cheaply done -- the gold of poetry chaps are those that come from the mimeo-revolution, a period which coincided with the Beats and then the New York School.  Many, many books were issued in cheap productions of work by poets who often later became important and honored writers.  They were often put together for a particular occasion, a reading for example, and so few copies were thought to be needed. 

So what's worth what?  I don't know -- but prizes in my collection (I just pulled over to the shelf nearest me) are by Naomi Shihab Nye, Ed Ochester, Frank O'Hara, Mary Oliver, Toby Olson, Gil Orlowitz, Alicia Ostriker, Gil Ott, Linda Pastan, and others.  For some reason, laying atop this shelf, is a book out of order, A Day for Anne Frank, a single poem chap by C. K. Williams (Philadelphia: Falcon Press 1968) which I see is selling online for $1,000 in an unsigned state -- mine is signed. I bought it new for $1.

I love the small presses, and the chapbook printers especially.  And I appreciate the poets like Robert Bly, William Heyen, Lyn Lifshin, Albert Huffstickler, Stephen Berg, and numerous others who have anywhere from twenty to more than a hundred small limited-edition chaps to their credit.  And I am happy to have learned recently that one of the better presses operating today, Adastra Press in Easthampton, MA, where Gary Metras makes books lovingly by hand, and who has published the likes of Daniels, Ochester, and Ehrhart, will be publishing a chapbook of my translations of Old Irish monastic quatrains in the next year.

Long winded, I know --

All best,

Louis McKee

Thursday, June 01, 2006

2nd posting

Two years before the idea of starting a small press came to me, the
Committee of Small Magazine Editors/Publishers ( COSMEP ) folded. I hadn’t known about this organization until ten years after it’s demise. I found an article about it COSMEP which I found very intriguing, in particular the ending "The end of COSMEP marks the end of an era of small press, but also a beginning. We're on the verge of a period of tremendous opportunities. Now more than ever, we need forums, organizations, where we can work together and share our knowledge and experience."

This reminded me of a quote I came across during the researching of a book I am working on currently : Allen Barnett in 1985 observed that "chapbooks may be doomed by an economy that does not support poetry, or they may flourish as they fill the vacuum caused by major presses turning their backs on poetry altogether."

I would say that chapbooks tap the pulse of the future of literature quicker and with more impact than standard books. More experimentation can happen here, raw voices beacon here.

This time I will look at four more books:

Trade Names Charles Tillman ©2002

the incredible sleeping man rupert wondolowski ©1991

mesostis Amira Hanafi ©2005

"I Hear America Singing" published by C.C. Birchard & Co.
Boston, MA ©1919

Trade Names by Charles Tillman
6 1/2 X 5 1/2.
plain cream cover with B&W illustration on back.
red fly leaf
book was a conceptual piece created in 2001 and distributed FREE around the country. Including as part of the anti-reading performances that members of Ugly Duckling Presse/Loudmouth Collective were presenting in NYC and east coast. I was able to see them and get some of their books when they came to Philadelphia in late Fall 2002.

the artist made this non-linear, randomized text as a exploration of man and machine (which ties in to the illustration on back). The text appears as though tapped out on an old typewriter - old technology - and arranged on the page like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. I completely was taken by the look of it and the lack of logical "sense" that it intentionally does not make. It is to be 'read' however the reader choses, the flow of the text comes from the way the reader's eyes float across the page. It is 30 pages – [I had to count them, no page count] - which leads again to a mental leap into the abyss....there is no ORDER here, except that the language is English and that all the words are confined to the page.

100 copies of this book were made and released like dandelion seeds, floating across the country. I was lucky enough to find this one early one, I recommend you try and find a copy for your own!!!!!

the incredible sleeping man by rupert wondolowski
Shattered Wig Press, Baltimore, MD.

I was in Baltimore in May 2000 and read their City Paper to see what was happening that night, and there was a blurb about "a poetry / happening thing" at the 14 Karat Cabaret. Gas Tank Orchestra along with poets from the Shattered Wig Press. This meant rupert wondolowski and cohorts from Normals in Baltimore. The work was prose, odd stories about odd people doing odd things. The thing that most impressed me is that they have been working as a collective there for a number of years (note the publication date)

The cover is a collage is by Liquid Borgnine. There is a red fly leaf inside the cover with stamped images on it. The pieces that make up the collection appeared in different publications previously. Interesting work, and always worth seeing how others present themselves. If you are interested in finding out more about Shattered Wig, go onto Normal’s website. It will lead you in. Baltimore is more than John Waters, ya know!

mesostis Amira Hanafi ©2005

Amira Hanafi is a Philadelphia artist who works with sound and word textures as well as exploring repetition and fragmentation of words, converting them into molecules of understanding. There is something of Russian Constructivism. It’s probably not a coincidence that the work appears on grid paper for the work is plotted as much as written, the words swirl or become dissected; or both. I have seen the visual work she is producing now and it is intense. Well worth checking out.

These books are hand-made so it’s best to place an order and try to patiently wait (I am no good at waiting). I can only imagine where her art takes her from here!!!

"I Hear America Singing" published by C.C. Birchard & Co.
Boston, MA ©1919

Proving once and for all that chapbooks need not have anything to do with poetry, this gem of early 20th century Americana is a song book which appeared the year the first World War ended. It contains120 songs, mostly lyrics with a good deal of sheet music as well. It’s a classic chapbook though; 8 1/2 X 5 1/2. A pretty remarkable find, considering its age and use. There is an image of a crowd of people in front of a large wooden pavilion in a park. The men are all wearing hats. Most of the women are too, as I look at it. There is an orchestra on stage and a conductor is getting the crowd to sing while the band plays. Now those days are long gone. Among the songs within are ‘America the Beautiful’, ‘Columbia Gem of the Ocean’, ‘Dixie’, ‘In the Gloaming’, ‘Yankee Doodle-oodle’, and of course ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. Brown cover, staples. A listing of other "Music Text Books" by publisher on back. For mixed and unchanged voices.

Till next time