Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Little Things

Over the summer, I read this really excellent article about how awesome chapbooks are. It's called "Small Is Beautiful: The Importance of Chapbooks," by Michael Young, and it was published over at The The Poetry back in May.

It's been a long time since I read an article that I connected with so well. Chapbooks ARE beautiful, and they are something that not everyone understands. 

In poetry, the goal is often to see a full-length collection published. Officially speaking, "full-length" is anything over 48 pages, and you'll usually see them in the 80-100 page range. Some, but not all, publishers require--or at least hope--that a chunk of the individual pieces have already been published elsewhere, as in literary journals, in a sort of vetting process. Assuming one poem per page, that's a huge, time-consuming undertaking. 

But the full-length collection is not always the best route to take, as Young rightly points out. He name-drops William Blake, whose most famous works, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, were both well within the chapbook range. This is a form that essentially allowed Blake to curate a streamlined poetic experience, with no concern about extraneous poems that might weaken his narrative arc (and make no mistake: narrative arcs are entirely possible to create in poetry collections). 

That is what draws me to the chapbook form. My first book, Miles, was a chapbook, and I remember spending endless hours paring down the pages, rearranging the works, and agonizing over any little thing that felt out of place. Having been 22 at the time, I was, of course, not particularly awesome as a writer, but even so, I feel good about what I was able to produce, and I am glad that I was limited to so few pages. And even now, I recognize that my poetry is stronger when the opportunity to ramble is removed from the equation.

So I would encourage you all to check out chapbooks, either as a reader or as a writer. You may find that they leave you with a stronger sense of who someone is as a poet, or that they give you the freedom to be precise with your own work. 


No comments:

Post a Comment