October 30th, 2009 / 10:28 am
Mean

Breaking the Cycle of Consent: e-chapbooks

There is no such thing as an e-chapbook. And honestly, why would you want there to be? The very term shrieks “diminished expectations” and “compromised dignity.” This is no referendum on the quality of your poetry, which I do not doubt is lovely, smart, and in the words of Daphne Dunham writing about Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, “brain candy of the best sort.”

Nonetheless, “e-chapbook” is a non-form that somebody made up, presumably as a joke, but which, like everything else in the poetry world, seems doomed to invert the classic Marxist formula–ahem, flarf–by appearing first as farce, and then as tragedy, which is the late-stage of e-chapbookism in which we now find ourselves copiously sighing. Can you think of anything more ludicrous than the idea that the publication of a pdf file to a blogger page is somehow cause for a new entry on one’s bibliography? I can, but all the examples are about other things, like healthcare.

In poetry world, this seems about as absurd as it gets, and the logical extension of the poetry “pub-credit arms race” which, unsurprisingly, tends to do double duty as an all-purpose “race to the bottom.” The only thing that I wonder is whether the impetus is the result of cynicism, laziness, or a sheer lack of imagination on the part of so-called “innovative” publishers. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, I suppose there’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be generous in my thinking and assume it’s all three at once. It’s the same lamentable urge that causes poets to casually mis-identify “chapbooks” as “books,” as in, “I had five books last year, and three more are coming out in the next six months.”

Listen, I’m sure your poems are great and I’m really glad you have eight friends with access to a copy machine and/or letter press. Seriously. That’s awesome. (I have one friend who has these things–and I love him.) And I’ve no doubt–none whatsoever–that the work is deserving of–or perhaps better than–Allen Ginsberg’s description of Naked Lunch as “the endless [poetry chapbook] which will drive everybody mad.” Still, it must be said that you have not in fact published “a book” of any kind–not even of the chapbook kind, since the one thing one of the many and best things the chapbook has going for it is its built-in value as a limited-edition, a status necessarily contingent on the physicality of the thing itself. And if you’re wondering why “must it” be said– the reason is very simple: because you are standing there trying to convince me that you have. If you weren’t trying to lie to me, I wouldn’t be forced to tell you the truth about yourself. But by all means, do go ahead and fwd me that pdf file. I’m genuinely excited to see it.

Tags: ,

135 Comments

  1. Blake Butler

      For the record, the ‘elitism’ post was by Amy, who has a chapbook coming out very soon (and one that is sure to be amazing). So I think that mash up you are talking about is a mix of voices, not one voice. Which to me is integral to the idea: to not smash everyone who is speaking into one voice.

      Being blunt is love.

  2. Blake Butler

      For the record, the ‘elitism’ post was by Amy, who has a chapbook coming out very soon (and one that is sure to be amazing). So I think that mash up you are talking about is a mix of voices, not one voice. Which to me is integral to the idea: to not smash everyone who is speaking into one voice.

      Being blunt is love.

  3. Amy McDaniel

      i don’t know..i got casually compared to a Nazi, Blake, doesn’t that count for something?

  4. Amy McDaniel

      i don’t know..i got casually compared to a Nazi, Blake, doesn’t that count for something?

  5. Blake Butler

      your Nazism is why i asked you to join the giant

  6. Blake Butler

      your Nazism is why i asked you to join the giant

  7. Matt Cozart

      What I try to do is read the entire chapbook in the store so I don’t have to buy it. This takes about 8-10 minutes. Sometimes I get stiff standing there and I have to shift my weight to my other leg, but that’s the only drawback.

  8. Matt Cozart

      What I try to do is read the entire chapbook in the store so I don’t have to buy it. This takes about 8-10 minutes. Sometimes I get stiff standing there and I have to shift my weight to my other leg, but that’s the only drawback.

  9. Brad Green

      I’m not dismissing your achievement, man. I’m happy for you. Blake knows I’m happy for him, or at least he should based on an email I sent him. I’m not sure why you think I was saying you’ve no right to participate in this community. That’s not true at all. If anything, you have more right than I do.

      Whether or not an individual is named, I can assure you others will read this post and feel shitty about themselves because they’d published an e-chapbook of poetry. Dude, people look up to you. People respect you. It’s the tone that carries the real message, just like your response above. One can convey disappointment with a particular medium or the belief that it’s inferior, but all criticism can be delivered in positive ways that seek to better things instead of merely dismiss them.

      Again, you’ve done something that very few people are able to do. You go! I think it’s phenomenal that a bigger, well-known publishing house will be publishing you and Blake. You know how much hope that gives me? A fuck lot. That’s what I take from it. I just think you’re being particularly vicious without really thinking what it might mean to someone who hasn’t had the same opportunities yet.

  10. Brad Green

      I’m not dismissing your achievement, man. I’m happy for you. Blake knows I’m happy for him, or at least he should based on an email I sent him. I’m not sure why you think I was saying you’ve no right to participate in this community. That’s not true at all. If anything, you have more right than I do.

      Whether or not an individual is named, I can assure you others will read this post and feel shitty about themselves because they’d published an e-chapbook of poetry. Dude, people look up to you. People respect you. It’s the tone that carries the real message, just like your response above. One can convey disappointment with a particular medium or the belief that it’s inferior, but all criticism can be delivered in positive ways that seek to better things instead of merely dismiss them.

      Again, you’ve done something that very few people are able to do. You go! I think it’s phenomenal that a bigger, well-known publishing house will be publishing you and Blake. You know how much hope that gives me? A fuck lot. That’s what I take from it. I just think you’re being particularly vicious without really thinking what it might mean to someone who hasn’t had the same opportunities yet.

  11. Blake Butler

      chapbooks in stores

  12. Blake Butler

      chapbooks in stores

  13. Brad Green

      Yes, it’s not a single voice at all, but a general rising tone amongst several contributors.

      In the end, however, it’s all how I’m dealing with things. I know. I’ll get over or not.

  14. Brad Green

      Yes, it’s not a single voice at all, but a general rising tone amongst several contributors.

      In the end, however, it’s all how I’m dealing with things. I know. I’ll get over or not.

  15. Brad Green

      I know Jereme. I’m trying to figure out why I got so bothered by it. Shit, I don’t even write poetry.

  16. Brad Green

      I know Jereme. I’m trying to figure out why I got so bothered by it. Shit, I don’t even write poetry.

  17. Brad Green

      I know Amy. It’s fine. I have elitist tendencies myself. We all do to certain degrees about various things. I’m just no good on the internet, I think. I just need to go write some tender-hearted love scene now cause I feel like warm pudding.

  18. Brad Green

      I know Amy. It’s fine. I have elitist tendencies myself. We all do to certain degrees about various things. I’m just no good on the internet, I think. I just need to go write some tender-hearted love scene now cause I feel like warm pudding.

  19. mike young

      ha! well played

  20. mike young

      ha! well played

  21. Cami

      I like it, too. Great post.

  22. Cami

      I like it, too. Great post.

  23. Matt Cozart

      Yeah I guess it’s just this one store mainly. Sometimes there’s this other one that has them too. I realize I’m spoiled here.

  24. Matt Cozart

      Yeah I guess it’s just this one store mainly. Sometimes there’s this other one that has them too. I realize I’m spoiled here.

  25. mathias

      I hate books. And deals.

  26. mathias

      I hate books. And deals.

  27. Garett Strickland

      Sometimes it’s important to get something seen.

      For example: I put together a limited-edition chapbook, and I stand behind it as a quality piece of work. But I’m not going to keep printing more indefinitely, mostly because I don’t have the means. So making it available online makes sense in the aftermath, since so few people ever got to see it to begin with. Better, anyway, than something I worked hard on being lost completely.

      I don’t know. It beats putting something together that looks and reads like a zine. At least you’re able to fulfill whatever design stuff you’d want to include without thinking about how much that’d cost to print.

      For anyone who’s getting started in the submissions department but nonetheless has a finished product that they mostly just want to SHARE, e-publishing doesn’t seem so bad. There are great e-journals, and great e-chapbooks. I don’t think it’s an ideal first choice, but it’s a choice I’m thankful for.

  28. Garett Strickland

      Sometimes it’s important to get something seen.

      For example: I put together a limited-edition chapbook, and I stand behind it as a quality piece of work. But I’m not going to keep printing more indefinitely, mostly because I don’t have the means. So making it available online makes sense in the aftermath, since so few people ever got to see it to begin with. Better, anyway, than something I worked hard on being lost completely.

      I don’t know. It beats putting something together that looks and reads like a zine. At least you’re able to fulfill whatever design stuff you’d want to include without thinking about how much that’d cost to print.

      For anyone who’s getting started in the submissions department but nonetheless has a finished product that they mostly just want to SHARE, e-publishing doesn’t seem so bad. There are great e-journals, and great e-chapbooks. I don’t think it’s an ideal first choice, but it’s a choice I’m thankful for.

  29. Noah Eli Gordon

      I know just what you mean…

  30. Noah Eli Gordon

      I know just what you mean…

  31. Noah Eli Gordon

      I purport no theory. Now, back to the rest of the ants…

  32. Noah Eli Gordon

      I purport no theory. Now, back to the rest of the ants…

  33. HTMLGIANT / Some Thrilled Thoughts on Mark Cunningham’s eBook, Georgics, With Eclogues for Interrogators

      […] text should shame Justin Taylor for his meanness about e-chapbooks not being chapbooks. Who cares, grampa? Who cares what it’s called? Words are important and should be used […]

  34. Interview with Adam Robinson at Chapbook Genius « Flash Fiction Chronicles

      […] Chapbooks are supposed to be fun. I remember a few years ago reading an argument at HTMLGiant that basically said “online chapbooks are not chap books.”   I agree with a lot of the points […]

  35. the chapbook interview: Cati Porter on echapbooks | The Chapbook Interview

      […] lingering distrust? You must mean people like this guy. But that post was written in 2009, the same year I wrote this series, and I think even in that […]