The art of chapbooking

forhan mugPublished by Los Angeles-based Silver Birch Press, Butler MFA instructor Chris Forhan’s new chapbook Ransack and Dance is in many ways not new. In fact, most of the chapbook’s 24 poems were penned between 7 and 10 years ago, before Forman met his wife (fellow poet and Butler faculty member) Alessandra Lynch and moved to Indy. When Melanie Villines reached out to Forhan, hoping to include his poem “The Church of the Backyard” in Silver Birch’s Summer Anthology, he had a few more poems to offer, but perhaps not enough for a full book. In short, this was the conception of Ransack and Dance. If you’d like to read the full story and catch a sample poem, head to Butler’s Newsroom.

What I’m actually here to do is sell you on chapbooks. Forhan calls the chapbook “a quick, intense experience.” Compact, with thematic unity. I would call them underutilized. Say you’re a fairly young – or fairly inexperienced – poet, or prose poet, essayist, or… short-storyist. You may not have enough work to fill a book just yet, and you certainly don’t have a body of work from 7-10 years prior to draw upon at your leisure. But, say you have about 30 pages of work you’re proud of.

For you, a chapbook is surmountable. It’s a starting point. A stepping stone. A hook to hang your hat on. A chance to see your work – and your work alone – featured either in print or in a digital package, ready to be consumed by others. And conveniently, many presses who publish chapbooks are especially friendly to neophytes. What’s even better, because chapbook print runs tend to be on the small side with equally small distribution, many publishers will allow work previously published in chapbooks to appear (when the time arrives) in your full-length book.

forhan coverYou’re probably thinking I can’t sweeten this pot any further. Chapbooks are chaptastic, you get it. But wait, there’s more: Contests! Cash prizes! Finally making your parents proud of your decision to write (mileage may vary)! Random example: BLOOM runs a yearly contest and selects winners in poetry, prose, and nonfiction. Black Lawrence Press also has a well-established yearly contest that accepts poetry and fiction. For poets, this list will be of interest. And of course, there’s always NewPages for a comprehensive contest listing, but you should be checking that site regularly anyway.

Point is, you may not be Chris Forhan, but if you’re reading this post, which is located on an MFA program’s blog, chances are good that you are a newish writer with an itch to get published. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be either a lit mag or a book. Chapbooks are a totally valid and more accessible way to get your writing, and your name, out there.