I Hate Chaps

Well, chapbooks. Yes, that's right, I think online publication of pamphlet and chapbook length material has completely replaced hard copy chapbook publication, except for a few edited, relatively high visibility, longstanding chapbook series (Seeing Eye, Belladonna, Diagram, Slapering Hol, Center for Book Arts, etc., and btw, I would include effing, the old Meow, the fine letterpress stuff, Ugly Duckling, uh, Chris Reiner's old series, etc.) and what I will term "ephemera" -- chapbooks made by an author and given out at readings, etc. Guess what, I think self-publication is vanity publication, including self-publication of pieces long enough to be bound with a spine, and I believe that it is a waste of time for serious poets to attempt to turn a profit from vanity publication.

I view chapbook publication to be the "open mike night with cover charge" of the poetry world, i.e., a way that struggling writers who don't know any better soak their friends and loved ones for $5. for what should be given those you care about / care being read by for free.

Scott Pierce of effing press writes:

"You are talking about a production value that doesn't have anything to do with the work therein."

I'm not talking about production value. I'm talking about the work generally inside. And I think I'm being pretty honest when saying that I have no desire to purchase any chapbooks ever; those I have purchased, I have purchased the entire series, such as Belladonna's, or subscribed to, such as Seeing Eye's.

"Chapbooks in fact preempt those glossy glue-bound books."

Actually, they generally come before a writer publishes a book. They should be taken less seriously, and I do take them less seriously, than books. Most of my own chapbooks and "e-chapbooks" get rolled into full length mss. when they mature or contextualize. [Although I will say that I have a couple catch-all mss. that basically roll together series of chapbook or pamphlet-length projects.]

"You are stuck on production values and spitting in the face of a lot of micropresses that take the format seriously."

Nope, I'm not. I'm stuck on the fact that dozens of my former students have wasted serious amounts of time and in some cases THOUSANDS of dollars printing chapbooks which they then tour open mike nights to sell. They call this their "poetry career," and confuse this vanity effort with DIY publishing or an actual, serious pursuit of writing and distributing poetry.

On the other hand, my business manager insists that my poetry BOOK PUBLICATION and traveling in some cases to readings is a vanity effort.

But again, my objection is not about the format. It's about the work, the poetry.

That's why, if no one but yourself will print it, it is important to ask yourself, "why" before handing over your credit card at kinko's to print the stuff youself.

"And by the way, SPD is not necessary for all micropresses. And also, chapbooks do sell. They sell quite well."

I'm glad to learn someone's selling poetry. I personally haven't sold very much of it, chapbook or no. To get people to read my books I have to give them away! I thought perhaps with so much of my work available free (online), the stuff that was in book form would be more salable. It isn't. And even when I sold books (before moving) at Amazon and years ago on Half.com, plays sold, comp books sold, fiction sold, non ficiton sold best, and poetry -- didn't sell a book. Not one poetry book did I sell. So I completely understand why stores won't sell it, and specifically, why they have prejudices against certain formats (they only want full color 8 1/2 x 11 magazines or spined journals, too, I know) that display well enough to sell.

The truth of the matter is that vanity publications, poetry, and chapbooks only sell when "hand sold." But I don't think one should pursue such "hand selling" BEFORE pursuing some sort of less merchantile relationship with the poetry community.


Anonymous said…
I've sold books of poetry on Amazon and half.com -- a huge hardback of Cummings, that Sun & Moon Barret Watten book, an extra copy of In The American Tree that I ended up with, The Tennis Court Oath. (I've also bought a few things through Amazon, most recently a used copy of Silliman's Age Of Huts.) More obscure poets (Kimberly Lyons) and some more common ones (Apollonaire) haven't sold.

I can't imagine online publication in any way replacing physical production of a chapbook -- there is little worse than reading poetry online, as the monitor burns your retinas and your e-mail comes in to distract you. (And I say this after having edited an online journal for nearly 10 years.)

You make some good points about dumping all your money into self-publication, but saleability aside, I prefer books of poetry to be short. Or, I suppose, I prefer them to be what they are, to have a single "piece" bound together, making physical the idea that this is the beginning of the thought and this is the end. Collections are a necessary evil but I always wish I had just the single books of Jack Spicer rather than the Collected Books.
DMS said…
Blake, Whitman, Pound, et al (Creeley) paid for and published their own works. Common knowledge. Going to Kinko's to publish your chapbook is vain if your intent is, well, vain. Whether cheapbook or spine, the goal is to establish audience, find readers, however limited, to actively engage. Actually, chapbooks are more interesting, often lovingly produced, released in limited editions (much more cool than mass copy). Your genius ambles forth twixt textured papers and lovely inks and designs. Your rants rave and your poignant, profound fanangling all come together for whammo! a perfect landing somewhere....
Howdy said…
and Zukofsky's mimeo

I do prefer the early san francisco small press books, or united artists books

but I think too, that although there are chapbook editors like pamela lu, elizabeth treadwell (defunct double lucy), jill stengel, a+bend, which went on hiatus but her projects seem to be reviving a bit now that the baby is older, and there seem to be as many female as male vanity book and chapbook authors, that there are not as many female as male chapbook editors -- of course the examples above all had the same Berkeley & SFSU teachers --

that, it can be argued, so I'm going to try to argue it, that by and large, the chapbook example is a particularly male example, and that "I am going to participate in the tradition of Zukofsky by xeroxing 50 copies of my ongoing masterwork and charging everyone I know -- none of whom is Ezra Pound -- five dollars" is not a thought that crosses my mind, and neither is "my coterie is gonna be like the second generation New York School"

now, there are as many (or more) outsider artists that're female

Anne Waldman some say scandalously entered a chapbook contest seemingly designed for more emerging poets and won,

but there are more guys like Doug Knott (note: not Bill Knott) than there are FranceEyes
Anonymous said…
i don't know about doug knott but i self-publish
some books (a selected love poems, a selected short poems, a collected political poems, etc) ... i don't sell them, i send them to public poetry places (poets house, the chicago poetry center, et al) and ask that they be given away free...
most self-pubs (including mine) aren't worth paying for. . .
and of course vanity is the right word, vanity is my motivation. . . vanity and resentment ("they" won't publish me, but i'll show them i don't need them)...

—bill knott

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