Q & A: Chapbook Publishers
J. Hope Stein on Poetry Crush
J. Hope Stein is the author of the chapbooks Talking Doll (Dancing Girl Press), Mary (Hyacinth Girl Press) and Corner Office (H_ngm_n). Her poems are published or forthcoming in Verse, HTML Giant, Tarpaulin Sky, Everyday Genius, Ping Pong, Talisman, and Poetry International. She is also the editor of poetrycrush.com and the author of the poetry/humor site eecattings.com.
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What is your own personal history with chapbooks? How did they first catch your interest?
I tend to read poetry in 10-25 page increments in one sitting. It's how I best digest the work of a poet. Similarly, in my own writing, I tend to think in 10-20 page increments. So, the length of a chapbook is my most natural unit of giving and receiving poetry.
What made you first decide to start publishing chapbooks?
I have a website called eecattings.com which I launched in 2012 in a fit of insomnia, which are e e cummings poems written from the perspective of a distinguished cat poet named e e cattings. I posted a few poems and then linked to all these cat blogs like Hipster Kitty and Cats in Sinks and tried to create a digital environment for the poems to live in. It's been tweeted and facebooked a lot and has been linked to on a lot of cat blogs and message boards. I knew I wanted to do something more like this—explore poetry within the environment of the Internet. I wanted to explore more than just the PDF, which is useful, but which by definition is a flat file… I wanted something more alive.
Last year Joanna Penn Cooper asked me if Poetry Crush (my other website) wanted to publish a collaborative chapbook called I'm Glad I Know You, which she wrote with Todd Colby. I read it and completely fell for the tension and humor of the piece. They will kill me for saying this, but it seems like there is a push and pull, which rides the romantic and approaches, but then backs away from, the sexual. I was excited to bottle this and put Poetry Crush's name on it within the environment of Todd Colby's drawings. Similarly, the next chapbook Poetry Crush published, May I Softly Walk, by Joe Hall and Cheryl Quimba, also has a push-pull of two poets who live together. The result is two distinct lyric voices and forms that meld and find space to incorporate each other. Poetry Crush's mission is to publish chapbooks that capture that kind of spark.
But your question was what made me start? Like most things, I think you are just doing it before you decide to do it. There was never a conscious decision: now I publish chapbooks. I just was doing it so I do it.
Could you talk a little bit about your own process of making and publishing chapbooks?
Poetry Crush is primarily digital at this point. There are a few reasons for this. 1) Expense. 2) Reach: I can reach more visitors to a chapbook site in one day than the total amount of chapbooks I would print. 3) A little bit political: The Internet has damaged book sales and I am sensitive to the challenges there. But I also don't think it's a terrible thing to ask how we can read the contents of our minds without killing another living thing. This is not to say I am against print publishing; I just think there is a responsibility and opportunity we have as writers and publishers in this moment.
Poetry Crush actually just printed our first limited edition paper chapbook, called The Book of Crushes, which was handmade and hand sewn by poet/artist Sarah Lefsyk and will be available for purchase at the CUNY Chapbook festival.
But as I move forward, I am focused primarily on digital: I mentioned that I am trying to explore the aliveness of chapbooks on the Internet: for each chapbook I publish I work with the authors to develop a unique website for their work to live in. I have a few chapbooks in development, which play with this (and I have very patient authors!): 1) Poet Sasha Fletcher is quite a dynamic reader. I went to his apartment and recorded him reading his chapbook all the way through in his bedroom and bathroom. I'm editing now, and that will be Poetry Crush's first video chapbook. 2) Rena Mosteirin's erasures of Moby Dick, which will include images of the crossed out pages. 3) Leigh Stein's reality TV poems. 4) Christie Ann Reynolds' audio chapbook 5) Hannah Gamble —poems about childhood.
What is unique about the chapbook form, or why chapbooks and not book-books?
I would say generally the full length tends to be more polished and edited, whereas chapbooks tend to be a bit more raw and full of secrets. There are benefits to each.
I know there tends to be more legitimacy associated with the full length, but I am very outside that kind of thinking and predict with next generations growing up reading on the Internet, the unit of the chapbook will rise. Which is great for poets! I'm not convinced the unit of the full length is always the best way to experience a poet unless there is a real reason for the work to exist in that form. For instance, 1) if the poet is executing a communication or utterance that requires a full length to do it properly or 2) if there is a massive amount of great poems the poet accumulates over time that require a selected. Otherwise, it seems to me that chapbooks are the superior form.
I also think chapbooks will be the bridge to bring over new readers to poetry. A book of poems can be intimidating for non-poetry readers. But a chapbook is just about the most darling thing you can hold in your hands besides a puppy.
Do you have recent favorite chapbook from another press?
There are so many presses making beautiful print and digital chapbooks: Little Red Leaves, Ugly Duckling, Bloof, Coconut, H_ng_m_n, Dancing Girl, Hyacinth Girl, Argos, Poor Claudia and many more. The Poetry Society makes beautiful chapbooks.
The two chapbooks I just read this week and thought were fantastic are Russian for Lovers by Marina Blitshteyn (Argos) and Sara Lefsyk's The Christ Hairnet Fish Library (Dancing Girl Press).
Since we lost Bill Knott recently, I am reminded that my most personally valued chapbooks are his. He made them himself. And went to the post office and mailed them himself. I go nuts imagining that.