In Praise of Chapbooks
This form of book is a boon and a dispensation, for poets especially, because it allows poets to publish small sequences of poems in one unit, or a selection of new or old poems as a sampler, with low production costs and easy distribution at readings or through the mail.
These very collectable little books are often below the officially defined length of a ‘book’ (in Australia this seems to be approximately 36 pages) and therefore are not eligible for prizes or Literature Board publication credit … and therefore they are not usually reviewed.
So they exist as neat little gems of alternative existence. Chapbooks are a satisfying presentation and a good read (and being so brief, rarely too demanding) published parallel to, but on one side of the mainstream book world. If you enjoy a chapbook you may want to buy a full-length collection of that poet’s work. You may be encountering a new poet’s first publication, in which case you can watch out for their later writing. Just occasionally a chapbook of exceptional quality and sufficient length (just 40 pages, say) might even win a book prize. It has happened.
Flying Island Books, 2014
Between Yes and No is a selection of 17 poems, some short, some longer, over 38 pages. Each poem has an English version shown in parallel with a translation into Mandarin by one of the two translators, Chris Song Zijiang and Iris Fan Xing. The editor of this innovative series is Christopher (Kit) Kelen.
Picaro Press, 2007
The Family Fig Trees is a 16 page chapbook in the Wagtail series. The selection of 15 poems has been made made by the editors and Philip, with the poem of the title as a central work, a poem that has been anthologised several times and which stands as one of Philip’s best single poems. It looks into his family background, a lyric poem in the true sense, with the poet as son, child and adult, discovering the obvious and less obvious origins of family.
National Library of Australia, 1992
This chapbook was published in the National Library of Australia Pamphlet Poets Series in 1992. A neatly produced folding pamphlet of 8 poems over 16 pages. The chapbook sampled a few older books for poems to sit alongside new poems.