Criticism & Features




Perhaps the smallest of the small press ventures, though definitely not the least significant, the English-language chapbook has a history that can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when it was popularized as an affordable booklet containing anything from ballads to folk tales. After all these years it remains a cost-efficient cultural product, and for many contemporary poets especially, it’s a step toward a full-length collection, or a notable self-contained gathering of theme-related poems.

In any case, the chapbook is recognized as a valid and valuable publication, no matter the quality of the production itself. It’s the content that matters, which is why even self-published chapbooks, usually sold and distributed by the authors themselves, are not so easily dismissed if the work has merit.

The chapbook has survived because a number of small presses continue to seek out and publish limited-edition collections by writers with promise (certainly, the exceptionally talent move forward into illustrious writing careers) or by established writers with a small project that may or may not be included in a future book-length volume. The Internet has served these enterprising presses well since any writer looking for a home for a short-length collection can locate the right editor with any user-friendly search engine. And not to be left out, a number of websites and webzines are also now producing e-chapbooks.

A few chapbook publishers of note:

The Backwaters Press, Booklyn Artists Alliance, Concrete Wolf, Finishing Line Press, Main Street Rag, A Midsummer Night’s Press, Pudding House Publications, Slapering Hol Press, and Ugly Duckling Presse. More presses listed here.

A few recent titles of note:

Achiote Seeds/ Semillas de Achiote, Cristina Garcia, Brenda Cardenas, Gabriela Erandi Rico and Emmy Perez, Achiote Press.

Four distinct Latina voices come together in this startling bilingual collection of poems that cover plenty of fertile ground, from history to feminism, from prayer to politics.

Bird Ave y New Mission Poems, Lorna Dee Cervantes, MANGO Publications.

In honor of the critically-acclaimed Chicana poet’s return to her ancestral homeland, the San Francisco Bay Area, these poems move with elegance through the troubled and celebrated landscape of the Mission District.

The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon, Charles Jensen, New Michigan Press.

Emerging poet Jensen takes an innovative approach to the poetics of the paranormal with this imagined journey of Edward Dixon, a physicist/spiritualist who attempts to reach the Ghost-World.

White and Wong, Thaddeus Rutkowski, MuscleHead Press.

This collection of prose pieces by the award-winning Asian American poetry slam champ is full of pick-axe attitude as it explores the touchy subjects of race, class and ethnicity.

Chapbooks may be the noble gems of the publishing world, but, as Rebecca Ellis, the editor of Cherry Pie Press notes on her publisher’s blog, “Chapbooks are only one way to print and distribute your work—don’t forget broadsides, bookmarks, postcards. The possibilities are endless. A small item with a sample poem and contact information is inexpensive, useful, and generous to the reader.”