Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Chaps, poetry chapbooks, are portable, cheap, and perfect for poets who write short, compressed, serial material. An advantage of chaps is a certain organic quality they can have, when they’re made by hand. Juliet Cook's chaps (and the soft-bound journals she publishes) all have this kind of organic quality which books cannot, and the way Juliet packages things make them seem like Dickinsonian “fascicles,” rather than products off a conveyor built: pre-made, pre-processed, delivered with clinical precision and not much feeling. I have a Nick Moudry chap called High Noon which looks like it was tied together with a kind of sewn thread; High Noon is a nice little poem, and I can’t imagine it taking any other physical form, as delicate and tiny as the chap is. Some cohesive units are just too small to be books— Brooklyn Copeland's chaps are a good example of this. Again, there’s preciousness (in the non-pejorative sense of the word) to these chaps that I find irreplaceable, and that I cannot designate as “minor.”
On the other hand, I will admit to having soured slightly on e-chaps. I like what Andrew Lundwall and Lars Palm have done with their e-chap presses— they are both competent editors— but generally, I’ve been finding e-chaps unsatisfying. There are genuine credibility issues with e-chaps— enough to make me think twice about publishing another one. Publishing in online journals is different; there’s more a sense of healthy limitation. But e-chaps are difficult, because the brevity of the form, combined with the difficulties in reading sustained things on the Net, can be irritating. I find e-books easier to read, because you can prepare yourself for them. The same applies to lengthy articles in journals like Jacket. The issue with chaps is that their substantiality as tactile products balances their small size and the compressed nature of what they contain. E-chaps are small, compressed, and non-tactile. They are also taken out of the context of a journal format. It’s just so easy for poets to knock out ten or fifteen poems and publish them as an e-chap. Poets tend to use e-chaps to publish their secondary work (though this is not always the case, as with Andrew and Lars’ presses, and many Ungovernable releases, including mine, are more like e-books). Then, “quick fix” folks on the fringes of the poetry world make snap judgments about certain poets based on their e-chaps. This has happened to me, and to others I know. So, to use the dread designations, print chaps to me are “major” while, for the most part, e-chaps are “minor,” though perhaps the advent of the Kindle will change things around again.