Section Feature: Chapbooks

The chapbook is to the poetry collection what the EP is to the LP, a shorter, more digestible book with a shorter page count that, at the same time, allows for a clearer focus. To me a good chapbook feels like a great poetry snack, something I can sit down with and tuck in all at once. It’s more cohesive than your typical collection of selected poems, since there’s usually a theme or conceit that all of the poems are arranged around, and the poems all talk to each other. Chapbooks are a great way to introduce yourself to an up-and-coming poet or discover some hidden gems from one of your favorites, and it’s usually pretty low-stakes. It’s great to see so many great presses like New Directions, Ugly Duckling, and Bull City Press pushing the newest waves of chapbooks out to eager readers. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Across the Vapour Gulf (New Directions Poetry Pamphlets) Cover Image
$10.95
ISBN: 9780811226813
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - August 15th, 2017

Will Alexander’s writing is not easy to label categorically, as his poetry is often sweeping, surreal, and encyclopedic. ACROSS THE VAPOUR GULF—which can be seen as either one long poem or a 50-page collection of aphorisms—reconstructs his words in the sequence he first wrote them, and is deeply tied to his reading of Cioran. You could say it’s a trademark of Alexander’s poetry to be constantly reaching for language that is at once specialized and electric, a sort of jargon that’s made musical when it’s removed from its natural environment. For example, “I’m speaking of transmuted kinetics evolved from interior nutation, from growth as subtle ambuletic.” Here the energy of the words is what drives the poetry, and whatever meaning falls into place afterward is just a bonus. This chapbook is a great introduction to Will Alexander, especially since he typically publishes with smaller, independent presses.


Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour Cover Image
$12.00
ISBN: 9781495157684
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bull City Press - September 5th, 2017

From a Houston poet! Conor Bracken’s debut chapbook reimagines Kissinger as the posterboy for the white patriarchy and toxic masculinity, and also in love with his boy-toy, the speaker of the poems. The poems throughout the chapbook turn from hilarious to heartbreaking to horrifying, exploring such topics as modern colonialism’s continuing reach through funding terrorism. One of my favorite elements of this chapbook is the way in which language is implicated as a power structure that ends up reinforcing the status quo. Take, for instance, “Henry Talks About the Hyenas,” in which “their mouths open like a book / in which terrible things are written.” At once entertaining and thought-provoking, HENRY KISSINGER, MON AMOUR makes for a fun read to keep turning back to.


Dunagan takes the title of this chapbook from a concept coined by Walter Benjamin that—and I’m simplifying wildly here—can be described as the moment at which a work of art and the artist’s concept of that artwork become one in the act of creation. In this case, that means writing about music through opposing concepts like light and dark. Throughout DAS GEDICHTETE conceptual philosophical language is combined with poetic rhythm to the point where it is actualized in the ear and, in a way, made concrete. Quotes from Sun Ra, allusions to Schumann and Handel, and other musical obsessions abound. For all the loftiness of the concept, the poems themselves are minimalist and easily digestible, making for a collection that you can continue to vibe out on.


$12.00
SKU: x1556

CATCALL is a hilarious, subversive chapbook presented as several women catcalling all the men they pass on the street. Across every page we’re given a running commentary from the speakers, wooing the men with sweet nicknames like “little bud” and “baby butt.” While we never hear any of the men’s responses, we can imagine their reactions, as the women’s tone quickly changes from aggressive flirtation to open anger as their quarry quickly retreats each time. Each conversation plays out as overall absurd, and the flip in gender does a lot to demonstrate just how ridiculous a behavior catcalling is in real life as well. If you’ve ever been harassed on the street, you’ll be able to appreciate this chapbook gem (an awful criterion for recommending a book, I know).


21 Poems (New Directions Poetry Pamphlets) Cover Image
$10.95
ISBN: 9780811226912
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - August 15th, 2017

George Oppen is my favorite poet, so I’ll just go ahead and admit bias right out of the gate. This collection was written by Oppen shortly after the publication of his first book, DISCRETE SERIES, and eventually ended up in Ezra Pound’s collection as an unbound sheaf of typewritten poems. There they sat for decades until being recently rediscovered in Pound’s archives, and they’re now available in chapbook form, complete with facsimiles of the original typewritten submissions! The poems explore Oppen’s love of sailing and his love for his wife Mary, and foreshadow his singular style that he would develop throughout his career.


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