I get a lot of questions about chapbooks: how to put one together? what makes a chapbook different from a full length? etc. I’ve enjoyed several chapbooks by Ellaraine Lockie who I offiicially “met” online when I published some of her poetry at Shape of a Box but then our online lives seem to intersect even more when I would come across her work in other journals that I subscribed to etc.
Ellaraine, among numerous other talents, is the author of 7! (yes 7!) poetry chapbook collections. She agreed to answer some of my questions about chapbooks for the lovely readers of this blog.
First, Ellaraine, I’d love a list of your chapbooks and the dates when they were published.
Chapbook list—the first four are out of print now but used copies are available in stores that sell collectible books (terribly expensive though):
Midlife Muse—won Poetry Forum’s chapbook award a year after I started writing poetry, which was in 1999, 2000 published
Crossing the Center Line—Sweet Annie and Sweet Pea Press, 2002
Coloring Outside the Lines—The Plowman (Canada), 2002
Finishing Lines—Snark Publishing, 2005 first edition, 2007 second edition
Blue Ribbons at the County Fair—PWJ Publishing—a collection of first-place contest winning awards, 2008
Stroking David’s Leg—Foothills Publishing, 2009
Love in the Time of Electrons—Pudding House, where it was a finalist in their 2009 contest, pub 2009
Do you remember how you first learned about chapbooks?
I saw the word “chapbook” in one of the magazines that had published my work, and I was curious. I didn’t really know any other poets to ask back then, and the Worldwide Web wasn’t much of a reality yet, at least for me. So I went to the local library to do a bit of research, and the little chapbook history I found there was fascinating. Then in another publication, I read a review of a chapbook by Gerald Locklin. I ordered it, and that was the beginning of my love affair with chapbooks.
I’ve found non-poets don’t usually know the word, and when they ask me how they can find my work, many of them hear it as “chatbook.” They sometimes think it’s an online term for hooking up with someone.
Once I learned of the existence of chapbooks, it seemed a natural progression to group published poems into small collections. And the idea of using a theme for each one intrigued me, so after getting enough poems published on an individual basis that first year, I put some of them together in a chapbook-length group focusing on women’s menopausal experiences. Its title was Midlife Muse, and I was very lucky in that the first time I submitted, it won the Poetry Forum Chapbook Contest.
When do you decide to put a chapbook together? After a certain amount of poems are published? You just notice a theme? Or do you try to write for a specific theme?
I have a background in running small businesses and in marketing, and I’ve tried to apply some of the same principles to my writing career. So I generally have a business plan for each poem. It’s fun because it uses a completely different side of my brain than does creative writing.
I never write specifically for a theme. My muse won’t allow it.:) I do make thematic lists of poems though as I write them. When I get close to enough strong poems for a chapbook on a list, I try to publish any stragglers that aren’t already published. (It’s much, much harder to get a poem published on an individual basis after it’s been published in a chapbook.) Then I assemble the poems in a collection, always by theme, and either enter it in contests or straight-out submit it, depending on how good I feel it is.
What other projects are you working on at this time? Other chapbooks? Any particular themes? Anything else in general about poetry?
I’m working on several new chapbook manuscripts now and have just put two together this month. I also have an invitation to publish one with Linda Aschbrenner at Marsh River Editions, and I’d like to do that down the line.
I’ve [also] recently developed a new (to me) art form using my poetry and my handmade papers to make poetry/collages. It’s a kind of marriage between two of my greatest passions, and then I throw in stamps from an inherited collection and any other miscellany I find in my house, yard or art studio that fits the piece either in theme, design or color.
I’m also putting together a fellowship application to finish a nonfiction book, a kitchen companion and cookbook for people with lactose intolerant. It’s scheduled for publication late this year by St. Johann Press.
And of course I’m always writing, writing, writing—mostly poetry, but an essay pops out every once in a while too. My three latest chapbook manuscripts, submitted last month to contests, are themed. One is a collection about women’s issues (my third such chapbook subject) entitled Ain’t I a Woman (after the title of Sojournez Truth’s famous speech in 1851). Another is a group of poems that explore our intricate relationships with the natural world and is entitled Wild as in Familiar. The third I did for one contest in particular. It had to be ten pages, so I put together a small collection of death-related poems and entitled it Red for the Funeral, a phrase from the lead poem.
Other chapbook themes in progress . . . well, there are many, but the ones closest to completion are: Montana, coffee houses, morning walks and domestic travel (international travel was just published).
Advise to other poets and writers about chapbooks but also about the writing life in general?
For chapbooks, I say to go through your poetry inventories and categorize the poems in various ways. I think you’ll be surprised to find you have enough common threads running through your work to put together at least one chapbook, maybe several. And don’t be afraid to use a few duplicate poems in different chapbooks, if the poems truly related to the theme. It’s best to keep these duplications to a minimum though.
For writing, I suggest not being overly concerned with the technical part of it. Once you know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, be more interested in life experiences and observations than with taking workshops. I’m shooting myself in the foot here, as I teach workshops on both writing and papermaking.:)
Don’t look upon your poems (or others’ poems) as autobiographical. Poetry is creative writing, and you are freed from so many constraints when you practice writing other people’s truths as well as your own. And you can combine them in the same poem. This often creates poems that are more universally interesting, that create a more thorough truth and that protect the privacy of not only you but of others as well. Oh, and never tell which parts are factual and which aren’t.
Ellaraine keeps herself busy! I’d like to thank her again for taking the time to discuss her chapbooks as well as her other artistic endeavors. A few more places you can check her out are here and well lots of hits through Google! And for those crafty how about a book on making paper? So you can then write your own poems on it. Thanks again to Ellaraine for taking the time. Can’t wait to see more of her work, especially the poetry collages she mentioned.
Ellaraine writes poetry, nonfiction books and essays. She’s received writing residencies at Centrum in Port Townsend, WA, a Summer Literary Seminar fellowship in Kenya, a writer-in-residency at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, N.M. and eleven Pushcart Prize nominations. Hundreds of her poems have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies in the U. S and internationally, and numerous solo broadsides have been published. She has won quite a few contests and has served as Poetry Editor for the lifestyles magazine, Lilipoh. Ellaraine also teaches poetry/writing workshops. In addition, she is a frequent featured reader around the country for live poetry venues, radio show and closed circuit TV. But wait she can also judge literary contests when asked and has judged for Taproot Literary Review, Poets at Work, Arizona Authors Association, the Sacramento Towe Automobile Museum’s annual poetry contest, The League of Laboring Poets, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Fiction Contest, Big Sandy High School Annual Poetry Contests, the Creekwalker contest and the Skysaje Poetry Prize.