Before I read these articles I had no idea what a “chapbook” is–or, at least, I thought I didn’t… I received my chapbooks from Burnside Review in the mail yesterday, and–I’m kind of embarrassed to say this–realized that they look just like the “unleavened” cookbooks that my parents’ church prints up every spring. Sorry if that ruins the coolness of chapbooks, but I’ve got to say, after looking at some contemporary chapbooks this week in class, not all chapbooks ARE cool. If you’re going to go to the trouble of self-publishing your own work, I don’t get why you would just settle for the default Times New Roman 12-point font and put absolutely no creativity or artistic input into your layout design. In my opinion, this is nuts–maybe even crazier than the Bride of DJ Spinoza, whoever she is. But I guess that just goes to show that you really can put whatever you want in a DIY publication, whether that be boringness, a recipe for homemade matzos or–if you’re really lucky–The Waste Land.
While in class we debated the real significance of chapbooks in terms of getting an unknown writer’s work “out there,” it must be kind of reassuring for struggling chapbook-makers to know that the poetry of the likes of T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson all originally appeared in self-published volumes, too. If your work is good enough, I think you’ll probably get the recognition you deserve eventually, regardless of how professional your publication is in the beginning. As the unleavened cookbook example indicates, the success of chapbooks seems to rely mostly on community and interpersonal “association,” as Eric Lorberer, the writer of The New American Renaissance and keynote speaker of the 2009 Juniper Festival, also pointed out. As Lorberer suggests, ensuring that a diverse number of voices is kept in print is crucial in the fight against cultural hegemony. I know that “hegemony” is a five-dollar word, but we discussed a similar topic in one of my other classes this week, so I’m just showing off my fancy new vocabulary. (I just hope I used it right!) Next time: commentary on historical chapbooks.