The Small Books at the Heart of Literature Today.

Let me start by saying that summer is well upon us in the border region. It also goes without saying that the summer brings with it baseball both grand and small and all those memories that go with such a storied game. Sure, I grew up on Major League baseball with the Detroit Tigers just across the river from me. But I also spent the better part of three seasons watching triple A farm baseball in Indianapolis. When the heat ratchets up and the early part of the baseball season settles into a steady pattern of games and sunshine and humidity, it is my time at Victory Field in Indianapolis I find myself thinking of. There were few things better than baseball at the farm team level. The prices were right, the game still felt approachable, and the talent for the most part just as engaging as any big-league game I’ve watched over the years. There was something charming about watching players develop and rehab, time to witness players play outside of the pressure cooker of Major League baseball.

chapbookimageNot surprisingly, as a writer and publisher I see baseball as a top-notch analogy for the craft of writing. Just like every ballplayer, writers need the opportunity to hone and development their craft. They require a stage to perform and practice at being the things they believe they should be as a writer. This is everything from the craft of the individual pieces to the marketing and design of the almighty book. Farm teams are where ballplayers develop into their game. So surely, their is a farm team aspect to writing. You can say that is the case with small magazines. But there is surely a tier above that that allows for writers to practice the art of the book itself.

Enter the mighty chapbook, that little wonder of a book that has been with writers and readers for the better part of four or five centuries. Once peddled by travelling merchants on the cheap to the places they found along their routes, these little books opened up their readers to the world outside with stories, poetry, and information beyond their everyday. They were tools of discovery for their readers and a means of making a living for their producers. Here was small scale publishing in its infancy. Times have changed and as such so has the chapbook itself.  And in that change has come the formative place for writers and their craft.

Truthfully, their must have been a good amount of effort placed in learning and developing one’s craft before one arrives at the chapbook. Typically individual pieces are experimented on in small magazines and even occasionally broadsheets. This operates just like a ballplayer doesn’t begin in triple A baseball. The modern day equivalent of the chapbook marks the moment in many writers careers that they are up-coming. They play the role of triple A baseball farm teams. These publishers and the work they do provides for a critical aspect of the writer’s development. It enables them to shine in terms of organizing their materials into a collection, to develop a following for a relatively cheap by in (consider the average cost of a chapbook), and they allow for the writer to develop a sense of how to sell something more than a single piece.

The chapbook is more than just a developmental tool for early career writers. They alsochapbook provide a unique tool for the more established writers. Like the baseball farm team, the chapbook enables older players to play with new forms and aspects of their game in a little less of the limelight. The small books with the typically tiny print runs and more concern about design and content over public sales creates space for writers to move in different directions. They are place that every writer can be relatively free of audience anxiety and more apt to push the limits of their skill, vision, and craft. Without the farm team there are no professionals. That I would argue is the case for and about the mighty chapbook.

If you haven’t recently I implore you to do so. This means as both a writer and a reader. There are numerous great chapbook publishers all over the Turtle Island. Many of them are staffed by some of the best editors and writers currently at work in the field. In them you will find the future of the field from both established and emerging voices. There is a depth to the writing world that runs deep below the trade-book surface. If you are interested in specific presses to look at feel free to comment to the post or contact me via social media. Enjoy the season before us.

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Vallum Chapbooks, one of the finest Chapbook publishers on Turtle Island.
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