So What Exactly is a Chapbook?


So I’ve introduced myself and the purpose(s) of this blog, but I think it’s time to actually address the question you may or may not be wondering about: what is a chapbook?

Poetry Society's 2013 selection for their annual PSA Chapbook Fellowship Program

Poetry Society’s 2013 selection for their annual PSA Chapbook Fellowship Program

In my time at Geneseo, I’ve taken two directed studies with my poetry professors, and each one has focused on the study and creation of chapbooks. Here’s what I’ve learned. A chapbook can be a writer’s introduction to the greater writing community, and often serves as a precursor to their first collection. More importantly though, it doesn’t have to be a precursor to anything. Poets like Kristy Bowen have released several chapbooks (in print and online) just to get their work out into the world, and I think that’s an important trait that the chapbook has to offer.

Writer’s Digest defines a chapbook as “a small collection of poetry, generally no more than 40 pages, that often centers on a specific theme, such as exotic foods or wild animals or Justin Bieber. It’s typically saddle-stitched (like a pamphlet or magazine) and is a format well suited to smaller print-runs.” That’s all fine and dandy, but I would make one small adjustment: the scope of a chapbook is often much larger than one subject. As the post I referenced above states, a chapbook can often be a publisher’s first impression of a poet, and if it takes off, it can lead to a collection being picked up by a larger publishing company.

However, publishing a collection isn’t the only reason chapbooks are put out into the world. Some online journals, like Cartridge Lit, accept submissions of entire chapbooks, two of which currently published on their site. Those two chapbooks are good examples of poetry that focuses around a specific topic (if you’re a fan of video games and poetry, you should go check them out).

Chapbooks are versatile, easy to access, and can be put out into the world in so many different ways (contests, publishing companies, independently, etc.). With so many outlets available to bring a chapbook into the world, it often surprises me that they aren’t paid more attention to. I had never even heard of a chapbook until I read Justin Boening’s Self Portrait as a Missing Person last year. So I’m ready to give the chapbook a little bit more credit and appreciation, especially because I may have my own out in the world soon. I hope you decide to stick around and see what happens next!

If I missed anything or have any incorrect information, please let me know! I want to be as informative & correct as I can, thank you!


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