The Third Annual Chapbook Festival was held last week at locations throughout New York City, with the CUNY Graduate Center’s Center for the Humanities serving as home to a bookfair featuring chapbook publishers from around the country.
“I love the composition and texture of chapbooks, and I love that they can be a single-sitting read,” said Sampson Starkweather, who organized the event with Festival founder Ana Božičević. “They stop time a little bit more.”
The Festival, which also featured workshops and readings, was designed to “celebrate the chapbook as a work of art and as a medium for alternative and emerging writers and publishers,” according to its Web site.
In addition to selling chapbooks, representatives from Belladonna Books accepted donations that will be used to reprint Akilah Oliver’s chapbook The Putterer’s Notebook. Oliver died unexpectedly in late February, and there are only “two or three copies” of her chapbook left, according to the press.
Jamila Wilberly, a Belladonna Books intern, studied with Oliver at Eugene Lang College. She expressed that Oliver’s death means a big loss for the literary community, and a bigger loss for those who knew her.
“It makes you feel almost angry, because you want to know more about her. We’re really sad,” she said, noting that hearing Oliver read from The Putterer’s Notebook was a one of a kind experience. “Nobody can quite read like her.”
Anyone interested in donating can contact Belladonna Books here.
The bookfair recalled last month’s AWP Conference in Washington DC, except that AWP’s sprawling, convention-style bookfair was replaced by a single room of chapbook vendors.
“It feels like a little family room,” said Starkweather, who also is an editor for Birds, LLC.
Zachary Schomburg of Octopus Books said it was sort of like an AWP “aftershock.”
“In poetry, geography doesn’t matter,” said Schomburg, who was passing through on his way back to Portland after spending three weeks reading and writing in Weld, Maine.
Chapbook publishers and authors agreed that the proliferation of chapbooks signals a vibrancy in the contemporary poetry community, especially since bookmakers are typically poets themselves.
“Poets are so D.I.Y. [do it yourself],” Starkweather said.
Chapbooks also provide a useful forum for younger, unpublished poets.
“You can introduce a young poet to a reader in more than a single-poem format,” said Brett Fletcher Lauer of the Poetry Society of America. The PSA publishes four chapbooks each year as part of its annual Chapbook Competition.
Nate Pritts of H-ngm-n Bks thinks chapbooks are as important as traditional full-length collections, finding it is not always necessary to distinguish between the two formats.
“It’s all poetry,” he said. “It needs to get out there whether you publish a book or staple it and mail it to a friend.”
The Festival, designed to “celebrate the chapbook as a work of art and as a medium for alternative and emerging writers and publishers,” also featured a roundtable and launch of Series II in Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative.