Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tobi Alfier - The Pros and Pros of Chapbooks

photo: Washington State University
In the “old days”, a chapbook was an easy way for a poet to get some of their work “out there”, acquaint the book buying public with their name, and hopefully generate interest from a publisher. They were often a few mimeographed pages with a staple up top, easy to read and easy to recycle. Today most chapbooks are more professional, just shorter than a full-length collection.

Not every poet wants to publish, and that’s okay, they are still poets. But if you feel you are ready to begin publishing, you may wish to start with a chapbook.

A couple things to consider:

  1. If you have poets you admire, buy their chapbooks and see how they were formatted. You will see things you like. Consider those same things as you assemble yours.

  1. Color is expensive (I learned this the hard way!). If your front cover is color, your back cover can also be color (it’s the other side of a piece of paper folded in half). So if you want a picture of yourself on the book, and that picture is in color, put it on the back, on the outside. I’m shy, and I hated having my picture on the outside back cover. Do what works for you!

  1. Are you going to self-publish? There are many more options now than when I made my first chapbook. I went to a local press, made a hundred copies, and when those copies were gone, they were gone. I still have three copies. If you use one of the newer “print on demand” options, you will have the ability to be on all the Amazons – US, UK, CA, etc. and the book will always be available. Likewise if you are accepted by a publisher.

My first chapbook was called “Sanity Among the Wildflowers”. It was put together in 2005. My Aunt Debbie’s beautiful artwork was on the front cover and the back cover was blessedly blank.

I had two measly publication credits. There were twenty poems, and for some reason that was logical to me at the time, I did not put page numbers on it. No intended theme, although I subsequently heard that most of the poems were about “food, loss and failing bodies”. No bio, black and white picture of me on the INSIDE back cover.

I gave most of them away with heartfelt gratitude toward anyone who wanted one. When I heard the publisher made a copy for himself, and read it during his lunch breaks, I almost cried.  I still love every poem, ancient punctuation, bad line breaks and all.

Since then I have grown, and so has my poetry, but I will always remember “Sanity” as the start of it all.

JUST DO IT!!! You will learn something new every single time and you will never regret it.



Sanity Among the Wildflowers

My lover’s teeth are gray from lies,
spitting the poison out has darkened
them around the edges.
Her smile reminds me to be wary.
Remember the doctor smiling,
holding some vaccine behind his back,
that is how it feels today.

Our neighbors destroyed a
row of cypress trees
between our properties. I
am helpless in the blinding 
spotlight I cannot ignore she is
untruthful, her thoughts a mosaic
I cannot parse and so it goes.

I am an uncomplicated man I
am not a hero.
I spread a blanket in the field,
ease into her journals.
There is no epiphany I know
I will never make her happy.
Only temporarily, as an orphan waits
anxiously along the edge of
a darkened train station for
rescue she waits with me.

She squeezes an orange
her hand shakes, how long
will this farce be played out?
It is very quiet in our house, civil
to the casual eye, never joyful,
her teeth are gray from lies.

So many lies.

- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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