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

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