A few good chaps


At qarrtsiluni, we’re looking for a few good chaps.

Why a chapbook? Regardless of what you call it, the fact is that a pamphlet-sized collection of poetry can be an astonishingly beautiful thing. It’s not just for emerging poets anymore; a poet at any stage of her career might find she has a collection of work too long for a featured section in a journal and too short for a full-length book. And a chapbook designed to be read in a single sitting offers a nourishing alternative to a magazine or newspaper. With roots in the 16th century, it’s the original sleek and sexy mobile device.

I don’t have nearly as many poetry chapbooks as I’d like, but the photo does give some sense of the variety in their production style: the sewn and the stapled, the offset and the xeroxed, the book-shaped and the pamphlet-shaped. This outer variety suggests something of the variety in their contents, as well. I suppose it might be no greater than the variety one encounters among regular books of poetry, but sometimes I do think chapbook publishers are a bit more tolerant of eccentricity, more willing to take risks with content than they’d be if they were publishing a full-length book, which after all is a bigger investment. I’ve found some of the most satisfying short collections of poetry housed in really cheap, copy-shop editions — such as Howie Good’s latest collection of prose poems, Tomorrowland, which has just been very well reviewed at One Night Stanzas. And if your taste runs to sonnets, you can’t do better than Water Signs, Katherine Durham Oldmixon’s thematically unified gathering of three sonnet chains, where the last line of one sonnet forms the first line of the next. This, by contrast, is a beautiful production (aside from a flubbed table of contents) from Finishing Line Press, which specializes in books of poetry up to 26 pages in length.

For qarrtsiluni‘s inaugural poetry chapbook, we’re hoping to marry good design — courtesy of Beth, who’s worked in design for three decades — with great content, courtesy of all y’all. Or some of y’all, at any rate. Everyone who enters the contest gets a copy of the winning chapbook, so if you have a shortish cycle of poems lying around waiting to be spruced up for publication, it should be worth your while. Here are the guidelines.

Tree of Life

A foreign bird sang
in a foreign accent
too thick for anything but the sound
of spitting: puh puhpuh puh puh.
A new mouth had blossomed
in my chest, round and wet
with astonishment, & I wanted
nothing more than to lie back in
the sturdy arms of my captain & have
a heart-to-heart talk with the sun.
Where was I? What did I need
this stick for, so far from any ground?
I let it fall. I would be an epiphyte now —
my fancy boots & spiked helmet
already dangled well enough for roots.
I let out the breath I’d been holding
for so long, thinking its true owner
would return to claim it. Above me
in ragged ranks the whole village
turned out again
to wave & wave.

Photo link (public domain)


Don’t forget to visit Festival of the Trees 33. I hate to play favorites, but I do think this is one of the most varied and interesting editions to date. Highlights for me included a gallery of silo trees, an illustrated essay on tree asters, and a detailed account of one couple’s adventures learning to climb trees with ropes just like the people in Richard Preston’s book, The Wild Trees.