May 16, 2012

Let’s CHAP [stick][s][eau][erone][el] BOOK

I’m not even sure I like this blog.  Read at your own risk:

I love poetry chapbooks because they fit into the back pocket of my jeans even with the stretch denim. (All ladies know how hard it is to even carry a pencil in those darn stretch blues).

Chapbooks are the ones you cradle in independent bookstores.  Their cover images just speak to you and inside the pages, there’s that quote about your soul, and how you keep it stored only in a cold climate.  (Okay, I made all of that up, but chapbooks are  usually breath-taking and more importantly, just enough).

In a world where things are literally flying at your head from the interwebs as if your Alice falling down the rabbit hole’s shoot of rocking chairs, glass bottles, status updates, and mindless gossip, chapbooks are the pockets where you can breathe.  They’re like small nooks of poetry.  Even if you aren’t alone, socked-up to your shins in bed, you feel that way reading chapbooks.

Lately, books are filled to the brim with poems that were used as fillers.  Chapbooks hold the best poems – the poems worth that delicate whisper you use because you’re reading poetry, alone, in your bedroom and it’s too personal to let your family members, or even your cat hear.  When I say just enough, I mean that all the lines, all the verses, all the rhythms, are doing the same amount of work, all the poems carry that push.  I’m not saying they hold the same emotional packaging though.

Poets today who have made a name for themselves ride their name into pastoral poems about daybreak.  I’m not against those poems, but are they really pushing the boundaries of contemporary poetry and making us look at ourselves differently, or more fully.

The four recent chapbooks that I’ve read are The Sad Epistles by Emma Bolden, The Book of Women by Dorianne Laux, Invisible Girls by Erika Lutzner who runs New Poets for Peace, and everything by Noah Falck.

Emma Bolden’s poems in The Sad Epistles were published by Dancing Girl Press & Studios which publishes contemporary women’s poetry.  They publish about 10-12 women poets per year and always produce stunning little packets of words.  It’s like the bubble gum of poetry.   You can purchase The Sad Epistles from their website for just $7.  Believe me, you’ll want to make that purchase because I said so, and because Miss Bolden has a beautiful blog where she makes hilarious commentary on her life, and words.

Bolden uses stunning language that must be felt in the mouth.  You must eat poetry, it is ingested no other way.  You must read it aloud, use pauses to take breaths during the immediate grief you feel for your own romantic relationship gone sour like Bolden’s.

What more can you say about love than, “An old woman’s garden, peaches lost in their rot”  (Bolden). The Sad Epistles is metaphorically driven and takes us through a strict series of sadness with titles like, “Attempting to Determine the Affect of Absence by Number,” and “An Answer to the Question Why are You Shaking.”  Yes, when you end something, you quake and shake, you let your eye liner puddle black as wet soil and drain onto your cheeks.  It’s more than that with Miss Bolden, but you’ll have to see.  She’s much more capable with words than I am, using them like a personal jungle gym in outer space.  I’ve never seen that many metaphors, or that many stark raving images (naked, running laps around your parents’ house on a dare) come together and unfold so slowly, and painfully.

Laux’s Book of Women is the automatic response to her current poetry hardcover from Norton, Book of Men.  Her explanation for the book is “how can you have a book of men without having a book of women?”  The poems in the book are eternal Laux.  Dolly Parton’s breasts make an appearance, a she-snake and the death bed of a wife.  Her poetry is always, and will always be beautiful, sensual, something to rub against your skin.  I really don’t have to expand, other than sharing a few poems from the collection.

Here is a link to Waitress in Blip Magazine.

Here is a link to Secondhand Coat in Blip Magazine, also.

Invisible Girls is terrifying.  It ignites everything I fear for the world in one poetry collection.  It’s about girls given as sex slaves in brothels.  It burns, still.  One of my favorite lines from the collection is, “he held her down like she/was made of gossamer/yet, she felt like her body/was full of tar” (Lutzner).  I love it not because of its form but because it places what’s happening to these small girls in our backyard.  How many years ago was it that we tarred and feathered our own?  The historical connotation of this one line is amazing.  It’s easy to chalk things up to “oh, that’s happening in third world countries,” but we need to remember that it’s happening to human kind.  The word No is two letters, but demands the same respect whether spoken softly or raging.

Noah Falck wrote one of my all-time favorite poems ever.  I’m sure I’ve talked about him before on this blog.  He is a fourth grade teacher as well as poet, and more importantly a bomb-ass prose poet.  Yep, bomb-ass, perfect description, blow your butt up.  I’ve never been to the Midwest, but I want to because of this poem.


extends beyond the five flavors of boredom and further than the dimple-smeared children circling the food court could ever imagine. It cuts through the town where the pop-top was invented, the town of the backpack vacuum cleaner, the first electric street light and along the traffic island where the three-legged stray dog everyone feeds but refuses to pet shivers before stumbling somewhere out in the distance where several new roads emerge beneath a caution light blinking above teenagers who suck face and viciously trade bubblegum and mononucleosis as shadows of fertilized cornhusk sway like children on roller skates.  It stretches into those remote zip codes you’ve always wondered about, where your dreams take place, where a single tree silhouetting the horizon is not quite ready for rain, where every August there is a sunset that bleeds into September. It bumps down dirt roads and amplifies the people from one light towns and people hugging in small groups, their colorful fannypacks overlapping in smoke groomed bowling alleys where everything swallows like cigarette ash and sunburn appears unexpectedly like a sixth child and unfolds near funny red-lipped people drinking to get drunk because not everything needs an answer because breathing only stops after another double-bacon cheeseburger and continues down alleyways and crosswalks through tollbooths and potholes near chain-link fenced-in yards which hold children and plastic and innocence with storms on the horizon and horizons on the storm, the sounds like unhung paintings left in the closet, like snow filled landscapes and whispers in far out lawns where people are being born and people are dying, and people are laughing out loud and scaring hiccups out of their bodies beneath sudden gushes of acid rain.”

(This poem was first published in The Equalizer, 2010 and I’m going to pray fervently that no one gets mad at me for posting it).

I like Noah Falck because he uses the middle school kissing disease “mono” in a poem.  We all said we got it through a straw in a soft drink, but really, that was you in the stairwell wasn’t it?

I like Falck because in my mind….(probably not in his) he doesn’t care about being published in major markets that have been around 85+, but are publishing crap contemporary poetry (I’m looking at you ____ ).   He has been published by one of THE BEST contemporary journals in America right now, NYQ.  Falck is also published in contemporary markets regardless of online, or in print, and regardless if the markets are in the “old-boys” poetry club.

You would think poetry would be the one outlet where everyone is equal, and everyone can publish whether their name is Collins, Merwin or Joe Schmo but no, poetry is fervent in the classics club.  You didn’t publish Red Wheelbarrow, you’re not invited to our foundation gala.  I know all art comes with a name attached and the biggest names sell the biggest pieces, but what’s to say someone wasn’t born recently who is going to be the next Anne Sexton, ear nudged to a phone, curling the cord around her manicure and dreaming of red. (End Rant). You can visit Falck’s website here, and buy his newest book there as well.

Thank God for Poetry Professors with Facebook. My broadside from 2010 Advanced Poetry with D.Laux. It’s Margaret Atwood. Yes, Marg Wood writes poems.  I’m an awkward goose.

Here’s a short history of the chapbook: The word chapbook came from bibliophiles, and peddlers.  If someone was particularly outraged by a new law, or the ladies gossip circle, they were able to print up little pamphlets to argue their side.  They’re almost always less than forty pages (usually poetry) and can be made at a low cost with paper and staples, or as a fine piece of poetic art carved from gold (although that would be quite heavy, so maybe their just gold leaf).  My favorite historical remnant of the chapbook is that they started with broadsides which were popular songs sold for half a penny.  Yes, that means you need to carry your kitchen sheers in your pocket to cut your pennies for words.

Don’t be put off by their tiny size, embrace the thin bind, imagine all the trees they saved.

18 comments so far.

18 responses to “Let’s CHAP [stick][s][eau][erone][el] BOOK”

  1. I thought chapbooks were dead. Lots of writer have never even heard of them. I wonder if they are making a comeback. Thanks for this wonderful update and overview.

    • Cassie says:

      I think they’ve disappeared because they’re rarely carried by corporate booksellers and so you have to go to independent bookstores, or online to buy poetry chapbooks.

      Or maybe they have come back! Who knows. : )

      Thank you for commenting, as usual, dear!

  2. angela says:

    ‘bomb-ass’ post, Cassie. I write poetry because that is just how it flows. That said, I’m trying to get better about finding new poets (reading cutting edge poets). Just read a great list via Ploughshares today. I’m adding some of your links to the list! Question: best resources for buying contemporary chapbooks, (esp. feminist poets) ~

    • Cassie says:

      Sure thing, lady. Definitely read Dorianne Laux, Matthea Harvey, Sharon Olds, Carolyn Forche, Louise Gluck, and Anne Carson. Carolyn Forche is probably my favorite poet ever, but these are all wonderful women poets for you to read. Let me know if you need more, I have a crazy list. : )

      • angela says:

        you’re fab…Most of those I know…my question is, how do you decide for New poets? I’m going to order the 5 bundle via your dancing girl press link, but is SO overwhelming! Where to start? Do you base it on poems you’ve found online/journals? (in the end, it won’t matter, for I adore little books!)

        • Cassie says:

          Yes ma’am. Literary journals are your best friend if you want to find contemporary poetry.

          The problem is finding contemporary poetry magazines that do not just solicit poems from poets already well known and magazines that actually read the poems that are submitted to them.

          I would start by going to the literary magazines website and reading some of their online archive because they will share sample poems on there. If you like what you see, then consider buying a subscription. I’m completely bias on this as I work for a literary magazine and so I won’t give you suggestions.

          What do you like to read? Do you like experimental poetry? Narrative? Stream of Conscious? Word play? I can recommend you literary journals based on those things if you’d like.

  3. delicious poetry bits. thanks for sharing.

  4. Bea says:

    I enjoyed this post, and all the info on the chap books. Share one with me.

  5. I’ve only just started hearing about chapbooks but I think they are the cutest, and coolest thing. I have one I borrowed from my library by Susan G. Wooldridge, author of Poemcrazy and Foolsgold. While I may not like all the poetry, there’s something super cool about it. A little something to pick up and read whenever. I want to make my own chapbooks now! I wish there were some of famous poets to tuck into a purse or back pocket. My Emily Dickinson is just too large.

    • Cassie says:

      There are definitely famous poets with chapbooks – I think a lot of times poets publish really huge best-sellers and then the publish a chapbook just on one subject, one person or one memory. Google around and see what you can find. I’m glad chapbooks make both of us happy. 🙂 AND yes, you’re so right about Emily Dickinson – my collected poems by her is like a text book. It’s probably bigger than my head.

  6. angela says:

    You’ve mentioned the journal work before…I wondered if it was a literary one. I dig experimental and the prose poem…stream is great, too.

    “The problem is finding contemporary poetry magazines that do not just solicit poems from poets already well known and magazines that actually read the poems that are submitted to them.”
    ^^^ I would love to read the scuttle behind that statement, ha! That said, I’ve done enough surfing to sense a trend; find the circles of overlap with names/programs/journals. *sigh* I don’t even bother submitting my work…no MFA, no connections = slush pile.

    (PS I’m going to ‘wild card’ the chapbook titles tomorrow, but will add two that you blogged about…I can’t wait until they arrive, cheers ~)

    • Cassie says:

      Try Gary Young for prose poems – he’s pretty moving.

      You should definitely submit your work, if only for that one journal that gives personal feedback on poems that might almost be there AND because if you don’t try, you don’t know. I’ve gotten a ton of rejections, and a handful of acceptances, but we keep on…droning like metaphor robots. 🙂 I know plenty of magazines that don’t even read bios on people and accept poems on pure quality, just look for those that you see their website really highlights the artists.

      And yes, can’t wait for you to read the chapbooks – please, please let me know what you think of all of them!

  7. mselene says:

    I have always wanted to learn more about poetry, this is a great post!

  8. emmabolden says:

    Oh my goodness oh my goodness, this is the nicest thing ever ever! Thank you so much! I’m now imagining my poems drinking too much Surge and eating too many Nerds and running naked around the house with Girl Talk zit stickers all over their faces, and really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted my work to do. Thank you!!!

    • Cassie says:

      Oh my gosh, Girl Talk. I haven’t thought about the game in forever. I was obsessed until I actually got acne and realized I needed to see a doctor for those silly red bumps. How fantastic. You’re bringing me back! You’re poetry was amazing, it was easy praise to give. I’m still studying it. It’s in the next-to-the-bed bucket for night reading.

  9. […] quest to find more (quality) poetry gained some momentum when I read this post on a little blog with an awesome name: Books & Bowel Movements. The author writes thoughtfully […]

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Hi, I’m Cass

I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.

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