Wednesday, November 19, 2008

blurring the lines

The 5 books I will be writing about this time all blur the line and definition of what makes a "chapbook". Page count traditionally helps to decide what makes a chapbook and all of these books blur that distinction. Sometimes blurring is simply confusing, don't cha think?

Old Bright Wheel
Robert Fanning
The Ledge Magazine and Press
Glendale, NY
© 2003

This is the lead example of the presentation factor in chapbooks that I wish to discuss. I understand the reasoning to make a chapbook into a slender book with a spine, so that it can exist on a bookshelf without completely disappearing into a “sliver of nothing” that chapbooks tend to do, but a 31 page chapbook is a 31 page chapbook regardless what you cover it in….or as.

This was a contest winning book and it looks great, but it’s 31 pages. It’s fudging the line, but it’s beautifully done and the poetry is good. Still….

down under it all
Randy Tomlinson
The Sono Nis Press
Surrey, British Columbia

27 pages, chapbook with spine. Glossy cover with op-art front and photo of author as back cover. Takes up the complete back cover. I am certain that there were reasons to turn this chapbook into a book with a spine, but at 27 pages…’s a chapbook.

At the Border: Winter Lights
Carol Coffee Reposa
Pecan Grove Press
St. Antonio, TX

This chapbook has no page numbers on them, but I counted 89 pages. The font is huge. It ought to have been published with a spine but that means higher costs. Yet sometimes it’s better to pay a bit more for better presentation. This chapbook is a mess. The poetry is unremarkable. I am certain that at the time the author was thrilled to have a book out and I don’t want to minimize that effect on an author. But, looking backwards from my perch of time, it’s a painful reminder that not all books ought to be published and not all publishers should…..some should have gone into the insurance business or sold used cars.

American Proper
Jennifer Merrifield
March Street Press
Greenboro, NC

34 pages. 7 1/2” X 5”. Had this chapbook been “standard size” it would have been even thinner. Some of the poetry here is very good.

I thought having the title of the book and name of the author on the top of each page was unnecessary. If one is holding the book in their hand, they can easily gaze at the front cover and remind themselves of the title and author. Having that on every page is overkill. Distracting.

A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range
Leigh Ortenburger
self published
Palo Alto, CA

This is a condensed version of the same book but reprinted by author. 144 pages, yellow cover with image of mountain peak on front. Back cover is empty. This sized book is ideal for having in one’s pocket or backpack will climbing, I would imagine. But at 144 pages it is a bit bulky. Full of maps of mountains and possible climbing routes. Perfect for climbers.

Monday, November 03, 2008

chapbooks 27

The Alley Cat on the Page
Kevin Corn (ed.)
Writers’ Center Press
Indianapolis, IN

Having been influenced by Michael Dirda, Jack Matthew (author of Booking Pleasure) , and Umberto Eco as well as writers of a relatively new genre of bibilomystery, I now look at each of my little mentions or reviews as something like detective notes. Each book telling the story of not only the author, or in the case of an anthology like this, of the authors but also the publisher and the city it was printed in and the time period that it was printed in.

Here’s a 38 page anthology of poets who were part of a reading series in Indianapolis at the end of the 1970’s with brief bios in the back as well as an intro by editor Kevin Corn. The amazing thing about this is how some of the poets who are in this chapbook have become well known poets, like Alice Friman, Elizabeth Cohen, and Marcia Blumenthal Lewton among others. Others have disappeared but had this precise moment of recognition for themselves – back in 1980.

Deborah Burnham
Seven Kitchens Press
Lewisburg, PA

New publisher, new series. 7” x 5” book, well designed and beautifully made. 24 pages. Poetry is very good. Worth checking out – go to their website,

The Hound of Heaven
Francis Thompson
Morehouse-Barlow Co.
Wilton, Connecticut

Tiny book, 5 1/2” x 4”, illustrated by Jean Young. A rare and classic early post-war chapbook. 29 pages. Interesting little book indeed.

Love Among the Mad
Giles Mitchell
University of North Texas Press
Denton, Texas

This is another in the Trilobite Poetry chapbook series of the University of North Texas which I mentioned in a previous posting. Pages unnumbered. Signed by poet, Giles Mitchell. #78 of 400 printed. Described as a poem sequence.

I Googled Dr. Mitchell and found that he died in 2003. He had been at North Texas for 40 years and was the co-chair of their English department. He was 74 years old at the time of his death. Glad to have this chapbook in my collection now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

chapbooks 26

Chapbooks are now coming from all directions, sometimes on purpose and sometimes quite accidental. For example, I found Young Poet's Primer by Gwendolyn Brooks in a box at the local library where the friends of the library give away books, free. Perfect condition too.

Young Poet's Primer
Gwendolyn Brooks
Brooks Press
Chicago, IL
© 1980

This copy was the third printing, 1986. A slender 15 pages. The most traditional looking chapbook in the ones I am writing about today. Great book for beginning poets.

dying trees
Nathaniel Tarn
Rain Taxi
Minneapolis, MN
© 2003

This green cover, hand-stitched with green thread chapbook (6 1/4” X 8 1/2”) has 31 pages. It’s #135 of 200. There’s an image of a bug on the front cover which, I presume, kills certain types of trees. The work is solid. If one is familiar with Nathaniel Tarn, this is a great chap to complete a collection of his work.

2 chapbooks from Winterling Press
Emma Phillipps
Winterling Press
Auckland, New Zealand
© 2007

Stunning, marvelous, creative packaging; ie, WOW. Winterling Press is the brainchild of New Zealand poet (and publisher) Emma Phillipps and man does she hit her stride with these two small chapbooks. ‘there is always the impossibility of being able to move sideways’ and ‘for we who love, at the instant aw being entirely different from it’ are among the most interesting and well made items I have ever seen or held, period.

Each is a single poem with what appears to be handmade paper covers. The text is witty and quite startling to the eye (as she sprinkles letters on the page like pixie dust) to wondrous effect. The cover to the first of these chapbooks seems intentionally semi-erased as though the author had second thoughts about her own work, yet it resonates with the final verse quite nicely :

“Your thoughts are casting shadows, unlike memory/
(the store) casting shadows in the shape of Letters.”

The half-hearted erasure reminds me of a palimpsest. It’s incompletion leading to strands of thought about the creative process and revisions of work as one goes through it. The text is incredibly smart as well. Kudos to you, Emma Phillipps!

Alex Gildzen
a submarine enterprise production
Cleveland, OH
© 1976

I got this chapbook from a poet/friend of mine from Philadelphia. I had not heard of this poet before nor the publishing company, if indeed it was a company or a solo effort – I don’t know. There is a color painting on the front cover by Mary Ann Begland. I love original artwork on covers, don’t you?

This is an interestingly dimensioned chapbook (8 1/2” X 7 1/4”) chapbook. I googled and found the poet still very much alive and working, He informed me that the work here is from a notebook/journal he had been keeping at the time and it contains a good deal of swimming pool imagery thus the title.

The text appears to be typewriting on blue paper. A limited edition of roughly 235 copies were produced. Great find. Thanks for sending it, ryan. I owe ya another interesting one now!

Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home
Rebecca Loudon
No Tell Books
Reston, VA
© 2006

This handsome well made chapbook with cover design by Stacy Elaine Dacheux has a lot going for it. It’s unique dimensions (7 1/2” X 7 1/2”) and creative cover (there’s a mirror effect one has to see to get) doesn’t, however, mask the somewhat chaotic nature of the work itself. I found this a beautiful shell for a somewhat empty interior. That said, I highly recommend you search for all No Tell books on their website, and at bookstores everywhere.

Monday, August 25, 2008

oh please, no (2)

I have 5 chapbooks that are headed for the grand PULPER but I want to warn you of before hand;

Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Jerry Falwell
Old-Time Gospel Hour
Lynchburg, VA

Ronnie Reagen-era paranoia and holy viper filth and venom. This is a representative portrayal of the desperate times that were the Republican decade of Reagen and Bush. The horror of fear fed hatred and Bible thumping justifications.

This needs to be pulped. At once!

Ceiling of Mirrors
Shane D. Allison
Cynic Press
Philadelphia, PA

Mr. Poem
B. Z. Niditch
Cynic Press
Philadelphia, PA

Wolf Poems
Joseph Farley
Cynic Press
Philadelphia, PA

Beat Ballad Blues
Joyce Carbone & Joseph Farley
Taggezzine Specials
San Diego, CA

I don’t understand Farley and Cynic Press. They fluctuate between this sort of Xerox copy extremely pitiful junk and really well made and creative work. I am sure that it makes sense to him. But not to me, too many trees were felled for this mess. NO no NO

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chapbooks 25

Autumn Sequence
Jan Freeman
Paris Press
Northamption, MA

This handsome 8” X 8” chapbook with drawings by Siena Sanderson looks like a museum catalogue. That’s a compliment. Someone was paying attention to details. Great conceptual piece, well executed. It’s a keeper (should you find a copy, only 300 were printed)

The Poet Laureate of People Who Hate Poetry
Kathy Skaggs
Time Barn Books
Nashville, TN

24 pages, 5 1/2” X 7”. Glossy cover with painting on front and photo of poet with some quotes on the back. I have written about Time Barn before, they are a great little outfit.

Sleeping with the Enemy
Christine Zawadiwsky
floating island publications
Point Reyes Station, CA

Extremely well made and fetching book. It’s 26 pages with a spine and fantastic. Worth tracking down!

Drunkard Boxing
Linh Dinh
Singing Horse Press
Philadelphia, PA

Gil Ott touched Philadelphia with his presence for many years. Recently a book award in his honor has been established. Among the many things he accomplished with beginning Singing Horse Press which at the time of this particular release had brought out 20 titles, including Robert Fitterman Among the Cynics which I reviewed some time ago. Philadelphia Publishing Project began with this book in an effort by Singing Horse to present the work of Philadelphia based poets to a more national audience.

This handsome 36 page slightly larger sized book is a fine representation of the work by Linh Dinh, with cover art by the poet. If one were collecting chapbooks of Philly poets, this one ought to be high on the list.

Living in Our Skin
John Michael Irwin
The MIRA Poetry Project
Philadelphia, PA

I picked this up in the Philadelphia Free library during one of their monthly purges back in 2003. Technically it is a book with a spine but it’s also all of 49 pages long. This copy is an ex library book and in rough shape. I googled the author and the publisher without much success. It’s a Philly thing so those who were on the ground in the city during the early 1990’s might be able to fill me in on this.

I heard that the author had developed AIDS and moved home, but facts are fuzzy and shrouded with faulty memories and indifference. Out of sight, out of mind and ultimately forgotten.

Irwin had brought out a chapbook in 1973 called Between 10th and 11th (mail room books). This is an exploration into a text that I might again return to -

Thursday, August 14, 2008

chapbooks like messages in a bottle

Since beginning this blog on the topic of chapbooks I have noticed, among many things, that one thing that keeps popping up in my head while writing is how I am helping to keep the memory of the author and in some cases the publisher alive by merely mentioning them. Chapbooks are often a stepping-stone in one's career as a writer or artist and that's extraordinary then to held a piece of that history. But they are also the history of the moment - whichever moment that might be.

I have had the pleasure of hearing from a number of poets whose work I have written about, often to thank me for doing so. (no one has told me to stop, which is a good thing)

The reasons for creating a chapbook differ widely but there is one thing that is the same with all of them: the need to get the work "out there". Chapbooks then are like bottles tossed into the oceans, filled with the thoughts and musing of the author, and with any luck are found by someone who likes what the poet/writer/artist has done.

And I have had the good fortune to write about them. Of course not all bottles are found. Some sink or are destroyed by storm, which is the risk each of us takes in making something that is distributed beyond our own hands. Some ought to have never been made, and I will continue to call those as I find them; write about them, state SAVE A TREE when necessary, and promptly recycle them for the pulp they are only worth.

Reviewers tend to write well of everything so that they attempt to stay on everyone's good side, but sometimes it's the job of the reviewer/critic to tell the emperor he is indeed naked.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned, more to come.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chapbooks 24

Artemis’ Bow
Leslie Palmer
Red Lion Chapbook
Denton, TX

Last year I bought a lot of chapbooks on ebay and this was among them. All the books in the lot were from Denton, Texas which is a town I ate Chinese food in during a blur of a cross country trip I was part of back in early 2001.

Leslie Palmer taught Bible and Classics at the University of North Texas for 25 years. This is her third chapbook. It’s handsome and well made. 17 pages. Signed and numbered. I didn’t know that there were poets in north Texas. Well there are. It’s a nice little collection.

How I Love
Jeremy Robinson
A Quixote-Thoth Magazine Supplement

There is no information about this supplement in the supplement. 7 poems by Jeremy Robinson with a photo on back by Carl Dobkin. There are woodcuts throughout the text by Judith Deibig-Lacaria. Nice paper. Well made.

The Worchester Poems
A Triobite Poetry Chapbook
University of North Texas Press
Denton, TX

Apparently the English Department at the University of North Texas ran a poetry series in the early 1990’s where they would invite a poet to read, then publish a small chapbook of work that was read and/or representative of the poet’s work. This thin chapbook of unnumbered pages is one of those in the series. Signed and numbered in front. These are prose poems. Interesting work. Cover a bit generic but it’s the thought that counts here.

Life: still under construction
Wilson L Buchert III
Self published

This book is dedicated to the memory of the author’s recently deceased wife. 30 pages. Clip-art cover. Heartfelt and touching. It’s important to remember everyone who has gone to the trouble of creating a book. Here my heart goes out to Buchert and hope that the years have been kind to him

Object 1:4
Zero Degree Press
Lancaster, PA

This journal was created by the sponsoring organization, the Poetry Continuum, which existed in Lancaster from 1988-1998. It was a clique of writers whose work and language seem interchangeable. Hearing one was like hearing all. This is the first issue. 23 pages. Blue cover with yellow numbers on front. Featuring the work of 9 poets. A nice capsule for that place in time.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Chap*books 23

6 X 6
Ugly Duckling Presse
Brooklyn, NY

I have written in the past about this great little collective, Ugly Ducking Presse, which hails from Brooklyn. In this series of little poetry journals, they acknowledge their debt to Russian Constructivism with wallpaper covers of a unique shape and size. The poetry by Joe Elliot, Arielle Greenberg, Lewis Warsh, Carlos Blackburn, Mark Lamoureux, and Alicia Rabins is also fantastic. If one were a collector of fine chapbooks, it would behoove them to get the work by Ugly Duckling!

I’m Going Home
Leslie Breeding
Green Zone Editions
Brooklyn, NY

Sadly, I have to say that I wish this chapbook had gone home, or stayed home. The cover art is not the best I have seen on a Green Zone book, and the poetry isn’t the strongest I have ever read in a Green Zone chapbook. SAVE A TREE!

A Hollow Destination
Jim Swill
Self published
© 2006

This is a tree wreck. Worse than a train wreck, trees were felled to make this horror. A pulping I did go, a pulping I did go. SAVE A TREE!!!!

In the Late Summer Garden
Barbara Crooker
H&H Press
Middlebury Center, PA

Barbara Crooker has been mightily busy over the past few decades, having a number of books come out including this well made little gem published by H&H Press. Crooker writes a good deal about Pennsylvania and there is some of that here as well. 23 pages, cover illustration by Natalie Kennedy. A fine little chapbook.

Concerned Poets on the Move
Sharon Leonard Goodman, ed
In The Tradition Press
Philadelphia, PA

This is one of those important collections that captures a moment, this moment is the aftermath of the terrible Osage Avenue fire that was the result of the confrontation between members of MOVE and the City of Philadelphia. This collection, 33 pages of frustration and rage and heartfelt sense of loss, has a clearly Afro-American hue to its writings and stance but it’s necessary to have this reaction to what some have seen as a clearly forceful response against an Afro-American group. It’s an important document and I wish it were made available again for a wider audience.

Monday, April 28, 2008

oh please, no (1)

just one this time

Four Short Plays
Wade Savitt
Green Zone
New York, New York

This has to be one of the worst books that Green Zone has brought out in years. SAVE A TREE!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chapbooks 22

mystic, Mystic
Joseph W, Wagner
Five Mile Publications
Rowayton, CT.

This unique chapbook, 8X8 with black & white photos interspersed with text, was the brainchild of Joseph Wagner who is credited with photography and design for this project. The text is a combination of the sea journal of Captain Joshua Slocum, from 1895, and poetry written by a distant relative of the Captain, Robert N Slocomb, Jr.

At the center of this collection is the town and myth of Mystic, Conn. It weaves itself through each page and every image. It’s a great collection and a wonderful concept. Worth the find.

My Dance is Mathematics
JoAnne Growney
Paper Kite Press
Kingston, PA

Paper Kite Press has been working hard over the past few years to perfect their own vision of what makes a quality chapbook. Here is one. Hand-stitched, this handsome 21 page chapbook is something to aspire to. The poetry is wonderful as well.

Anthony Hawley
Ugly Duckling Presse
Brooklyn, NY

This one is a bit smaller, 6 X 6, bound by twine in what I might call ‘typical ugly duckling fashion’. I happen to like the work presented by Ugly Duckling Presse, and this is no exception. It’s the first collection by Mr. Hawley. It’s reads like a single poem. It might be. There is no directive nor biographic material, must be something about the vagueness of New York City. No permanence or no background; something.

The cover is imprinted with the book’s title, done by linoleum cut, using wraparound cover art. It’s a quite handsome little collection. Hurray once again for Ugly Duckling Presse!

The following two chapbooks deal with the other thing that this blog is about, and that is the act of printing as nearly every chapbook I have written about in the 18 months or so that I have been doing this blog has been printed – some by hand-press, or letterpress, but all by the sweat of someone’s brow and I appreciate and applaud that effort in the name of PRINTING everywhere:

The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg
C. Clement Samford
Williamsburg Craft Series
Colonial Williamsburg, VA

This tiny little chapbook was created at a time when Colonial Williamsburg was still being re-invented and revived from the ashes of history and neglect that had left it buried until Rockefeller money and interest brought back the area. The subtitle of this chapbook is ‘An Account of his Life & Times, & of his Craft’ as interpreted by C. Clement Samford, Master Bookbinder of Colonial Williamsburg’. Though a mere 32 pages long, this interesting book details the remarkable history of bookbinding and printing in the Colonial period prior to our Revolutionary War. What I find most remarkable is how precarious life and printing was then – how on the edge of the known world, of “civilized” world they were in Williamsburg, or Philadelphia, or Boston was then – how long they had to wait for printing presses to arrive from Europe, along with parts and supplies. Living on the edge. And now, some three HUNDRED years later, printers still live on the edge in this country. Printers who are attempting to keep the art form alive. Printers who view themselves as artists, craftsmen; magicians with machine and font. Their canvas is the blank page they are about to print onto. Their “paintbrush” is the bound letters prepared to be used.

Then consider how many books are published each year, double that number to account for these little “slivers of nothing’ and one can only marvel that anyone pays any attention at all to chapbooks, their authors, or their publishers. Yet, people do. Cause for celebration to be sure.

An Apology for Printers
Benjamin Franklin
Acropolis Books Limited
Washington D.C.

Important little book, every publisher should get a copy and read it. This edition was edited with an introduction by Randolph Goodman, prefatory notes by Philip Wittenberg, with engravings by John De Pol, and compiled with design by Harvey Sautenstein. Thanks to all involved in bringing this little book out. To me the most important words are those of Ben Franklin himself at the conclusion of this piece,

“I consider the variety of humors among men, and despair
of pleasing everyone; yet I shall not there leave off printing.
I shall continue my business. I shall not burn my press and
melt my letters.”

No printers should, ever.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chapbooks 21

Some Natural Things
Glenn W. Cooper
Kamini Press
Stockholm, Sweden
© 2007

The beauty of this blog is when I happen across the “globalization” effect of small presses, take for example the new small press out of Sweden Kamini Press. Poet/artist and now publisher Henry Denander has created a new line of finely made chapbooks. One of the first two is by Australian poet Glenn Cooper. His poetry is well written. The chapbook is very handsome indeed. Cover art by publisher, overall completely worth checking out.

What I most appreciate about the whole thing is that a Swedish publisher brought out an Australian poet’s book that I found out about since this publisher greatly admires a poet that my Press, Plan B Press, just brought out (Mark Terrill’s ‘Something Red). The song “it’s a small world after all” is playing in my head.

First Lie
Ann LaBar Russek
Black Spruce Press
Anchorage, Alaska

Ann Russek is always writing about where she’s been years after leaving. This collection of poems was written and published in Alaska about her time in the Midwest. Her Alaska poems were written in Pennsylvania, 2 years later, when I met her. This handsome chapbook with a reproduction of the Adam and Eve story is full of fine poems. Well made chapbook, finely crafted poems. Worth finding.

The Unraveller Seasons
Eugene Ostashevsky
Self published
San Francisco, CA

This 18 page chapbook by Ostashevsky features work created and performed in San Francisco between 1998-1999. The cover was created by Eugene Timerman. It appears to have been self published. Good poems, Handsome chapbook.

Should I Wash My Hands Before or After Love?
Charles London Cyndian
Pygmy Forest Press
Springfield, Oregon


Collected Writings from
Bowmansdale, PA

This anthology of work is the brainchild of founder and designer Alexandria Hartman. It represents the Harrisburg, PA region and represents it well. Many talented writers are within and tons of lasting images and catchy lines. (a couple of pieces in fact by a poet named stevenallenmay) It’s a time capsule of the late 1990s – a worthy effort brought off marvelously.

Thanks Alexandria, wherever you are!