Poetry News

We Are So Happy That Sampson Starkweather Is So Happy About the 2012 Chapbook Festival

By Harriet Staff

We are stunned, delighted, and generally more, uh, informed by having read this interview with the enthusiastic Sampson Starkweather about CHAPBOOKS. Starkweather is a co-editor of the small press BIRDS, LLC; a poet himself, and an organizer of this year's 2012 Chapbook Festival, held at the CUNY Grad Center. Adam Robinson at HTMLGIANT calls it “the good AWP.” For the interview, Robinson and Starkweather talk historical precedent, what Trafficker Press has to teach us, the great Lost & Found, favorite new chapbooks, and what we can expect from the festival. There's also some good call-and-response:

If you were a chapbook, how would you be bound?

I’d probably just be stapled, like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

As for that chapbook history:

Well, what year were they invented in?

I should probably just put in a link to Wikipedia here, but I actually learned a bit about the history of Chapbooks from Andrew Kenower of Trafficker Press at a panel he gave at last year’s Chapbook Festival. Basically back in the 1550s, and they were peddled by chapmen or “unruly people” and they formed “nearly the sole literature of the poor” and ranged from everything from collections of “bawdy verse” to religious ballads and political manifestos, and served as the only device of communication for the general public. So it seems we are culturally indebted to them, I’m thinking about the Dadaist manifestos, counter-culture publications of the 60s and underground punk era publications of the 70s, and more recently as I’ve been watching Occupy movements evolve, the way literature is passed around has that same feel–pamphlets, documents, manifestos, and poetry collections are everywhere, like unrecognized passports allowing each other access to our ideas and minds, and of course the People’s Library, which is a haven for these “chapbooks” and hopefully will live as an archive.

Is there anything that strikes you about the chapbook as a form that can’t be done in other forms (like regular books or say movies)?

...From a writer’s perspective it also allows for the right measure or duration of an exploration of a subject, idea or theme which would often exhaust itself in a full-length collection or longer book. I mean just like poems can be long or short, why shouldn’t books of poetry, but we’ve got this limit in mainstream publishing like anything under 48 pages isn’t considered “book,” which is insane. Sometimes a sequence/series or collection just needs to be 9 or 15 or 34 pages, and that’s where the chapbook as a form and unit and means of publication is so crucial. George Oppen, Lorine Niedecker, Jack Spicer and the mimeograph world of the West Coast in the 50s and 60s all come to mind as poets who mastered the form or unit of what we call the chapbook....

What happens at the festival (this week, y'all!):

Murder. And a lot of literary duels and scores are settled. No, it’s really a family atmosphere, which centers around the 2-day bookfair with over 50 small presses (from as far away as Croatia) held in the CUNY Graduate Center, and provides (for free) the smallest of the small presses a chance to show their work to the public. Chapbooks rely on an underground means of distribution, you can’t just run out to Barnes & Noble and pick up the new John Coletti chapbook. The Chapbook Festival provides an opportunity for the public to interact with the publishers and the books (they are tactile and material after all and beg to be touched). Besides the bookfair there are also workshops, which kick off at The Center for Book Arts, on Binding/Print-making, followed by a panel discussion on Community & Publishing, then on Thursday & Friday we have marathon poetry readings “LUNCH POEMS” (with a killer line up) from noon to 3pm, curated by 6 local reading series, and at 3 and 5 we have free workshops (such as Digital Chapbooks) and panels (such as Why Chapbooks Saved My Life), and Thursday is capped off by one of our most exciting events to day, a panel with an all-star cast called The State of Translation Trends in Innovative Publishing, and Friday night the festival is capped off with the Poetry Society of America’s annual Chapbook fellow contest reading/celebration.

Sam's favorites:

Tell me about one of your favorite chapbooks?

ONE! That’s impossible, I can tell you about a few that changed the way I write or think about poetry. Elisa Gabbert’s Thanks for Sending the Engine from Kitchen Press is one of my all-time favorite chapbooks, and is the reason we did this amazing book, it was what I think of as a book of thinking, Matt Cook says “you write the way you talk, I just happen to talk real cool,” well I think we write the way we think, and Elisa Gabbert thinks real cool! Dana Ward’s Typing Wild Speech by Summer BF Press totally blew my mind and made me realize if you’re good at running downhill, well then run down hill as fast as fucking possible! You open it and freedom jumps out and slaps you in the face and then kisses you and tell you “Let’s go!” Chris Martin’s How To Write A Mistakest Poem by Brave Men Press is mindblowing, and I find myself like a spy mechanic trying to figure out how it works, how it ticks and how the hell I can steal from it. Shannon Burns’ Preserving The Old Way Of Life is just super cool and a chapbook I wish I had written, and makes me just wish I knew this awesome person who wrote it. Amy Lawless’s Elephants in Mourning by [Sic] out of Detroit just totally bowled me over emotionally, somehow she is able to take this form or seemingly conceptual technique of writing based on watching Youtube videos of elephants mourning their dead, and making it beautiful, funny, sad, and ultimately, utterly human. Guy Pettit’s Love me or Love me No 1 & Ben Kopel’s Because We Must made me write to them, which is to me, the highest praise for any poetry. Look what Corina Copp’s double chap from UDP did to Ron Silliman. And last but not least, the last chapbook I read had a huge impact on me and is the reason I wrote this interview, Lorine Niedecker’s Homemade Poems, which are an amazing facsimile of the actual handwritten book she assembled and sent to Cid Corman, which is beautifully designed and published the Lost & Found CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and masterfully edited by John Harkey. It’s part of the upcoming Series III of Lost & Found which will be available soon, and a few individual copies will be at the Chapbook Festival so look for them!

For more info on the online chapbook, the fiction chapbook, and the chapbook chapbook (we hear it's called a pamphlet in the UK), and for other glorious photos, head to HTMLGIANT.

Originally Published: March 29th, 2012