You might be asking yourself two things: how in the world did they let you back on here, Tyler Gobble? And what in the world is a chapbook? I can’t really answer the first one, but the second one I’m gonna try.
Avoiding the long history of the chapbook, the way it developed, its historical purposes, etc., I’m going to focus on how the chapbook is used by indie writers, small presses, and even students, focusing on Ball State University.
First, a chapbook is a small print book with a low number of pages, often stapled-bound. Nowadays, the chapbook serves a wide range of purposes, from being a teaser for a forthcoming book to acting as a DIY thing for writers to use (often similar to how local bands use demos to make money and spread their name). With the popularization of ebooks, electronic chapbooks have also become popular in the form of pdfs and webpages. Essentially, chapbooks are a viable medium, I think, for writers as they are relatively inexpensive to produce, less difficult than full length books to create, and easily distributable.
Ball State University has its own realm of professors and students with chapbooks. Creative Writing faculty Sean Lovelace and Mark Neely have recently won chapbook contests for print chapbooks. Former students Shaun Gannon and Daniel Bailey each have their own echapbooks from independent publishers. As students, Gannon and Bailey also self-released their own print chapbooks. Current students Jeremy Bauer and Ryan Rader have also went the DIY route by seeing to their own chapbooks being published. Whether through a contest, a publisher, or self-published, I think it is pretty sweet to see these Ball State affiliated writers have their work published via the chapbook medium.
Now, I want to take a minute to talk to one of these cool dudes, Ryan Rader, about his chapbook.
Interview With Ryan
1. Can you tell readers about your chapbook (how it came out, when it was released, the process, etc.)?
I wrote a group of poems for a class with Mark Neely, and once I had seen Dan Bailey’s amazing chapbook look at me deeply with great meaning I knew I wanted to do something just like it: simple, small, memorable. A co-worker of mine, Johanna Ofner, was a design major and offered to put together a print version of these poems. I edited them to add a pseudo-narrative and we printed off about seventy copies. I believe this was in 2007, but my memory is fuzzy.
2. What kind of response did you receive about your chapbook and the poems in it?
Exceptionally positive, especially at such a young age (all of the poems were written when I was eighteen-twenty years old). A couple of the poems had been published in online journals before it was in print; this gave me the confidence to publish other poems myself. It is still the best personal project I have ever done, and I am proud of the results.
3. What is your opinion on chapbooks as a medium for literary endeavors?
You know how all the cool kids buy their music on vinyl because they love the feel of it? How holding something antiquated and beautiful in their hands and actively moving through the print and the music all at once brings them closer to a pure form of expression? Chapbooks, and really any small press publication, are to publishing what vinyl is to the modern record industry. Definitely a niche market, but a devout one that appreciates a DIY approach combined with professional quality.
4. What are some chapbooks that you have enjoyed (either print or online)?
Daniel Bailey’s chapbook was my original inspiration; I love every poem in it (“Underwater God” is a favorite). Shaun Gannon’s Casual Glory; or Macaulay Culkin does nothing is, simply, a hoot. Never has vomiting seemed so cool and poetic.
5. Do you see a difference in productivity/quality/readership between online vs. print chapbooks? Press published vs. self-published?
Since the readership for poetry is criminally small, it seems like fighting over who’s getting more readers is like getting in a bidding war over acres in Antarctica. Quality? Always subjective, especially in the hyper-specialized world of poetry. I want personal exploration and juxtaposed, absurd imagery—others want their poetry tight as a snare drum and loaded with natural beauty. But we are, ultimately, on the same side: trying to get more readers. I think it takes conventional and unconventional means to reach that goal. It’s the same world to me; while I prefer to stick with print, because humanity is obsessed with the tangible, I know that both mediums working in tandem is crucial to the proliferation of new, good, exciting poems.
Two members of last year’s In Print Festival, Matt Bell and Mary Miller, have had chapbooks released by presses. Bell’s first chapbook, How The Broken Lead The Blind, was published by Willow Wept Press in April of 2009, and his second, The Collectors, was published in May of 2009 by Caketrain after being a runner-up in their 2008 Chapbook Contest. Since both of these chapbooks have sold out, they are available as ebooks now. Matt also wrote Wolf Parts, a chapbook released by Keyhole Press last spring in anticipation of his first collection, How They Were Found, in which Wolf Parts and The Collectors appear. Mary Miller’s Less Shiny was released from Magic Helicopter Press in 2009 as a teaser for her first collection, Big World. These examples illustrate how up-and-coming authors can use contests and chapbooks to further push themselves towards full length collections and literary success.
Through websites, like Chapbook Review, small press competitions, and the continuing popularization of DIY art, chapbooks are a respectable medium in the literary world. I pick up a chapbook, and I am like, “HEY I CAN MAKE THAT.” Then, I open it up and there are these words like beautiful hellos and I shake my head at how wonderful all these words are. For me, chapbooks are accessible, awesome, fun, interesting, and useful because they are nice simple bundles of literary booyeah.