I recently became a founding member of a Poetry Collective. Many people have found this surprising, not the founding member part, but the poetry part. Because when asked about what kind of writing I do, I seldom mention poetry. True enough, I write poems. The majority of these poems, however, are strictly for myself.
Poetry, for me has become a form of shorthand, a way to express and record my feelings for later reference. However, I have been successfully publishing very short Creative Non Fiction (CNF) flash, pieces that could be considered prose poems.
Definitions can sometimes be interchangeable. A poem can tell a story and often a piece of prose can be more about communicating a fleeting moment or emotion, than possessing a story arc which contains a beginning, middle and end. I don’t care what the label says, I just want to read pieces that speak to me and I want to write work that resonates with others.
Good writing should be read aloud. Poetry cries to be read aloud. Thank you to the teachers who insisted we memorize a recite a poem as a class assignment more than once. Thank you to all the teachers in my life who insisted we read and act out the plays of Shakespeare we studied in middle school and high school. Thank you to my mother who pulled out her college textbooks and read her favorite poems to me.
If you’ve ever read the poetry that accompanies a well written picture book like Good Night Moon aloud to your children or your grandchildrenyou know the power of words with their rhythm, alliteration and repetition. So, if it’s about oral tradition, then yes, I’ll call myself a poet.
The Poetry Collective I am part of is officially called The Old Scratch Press Poetry and Short Form Collective. It is affiliated with Old Scratch Press, an imprint of Devil’s Party Press, a small independent publisher. We are volunteering our time to help promote the craft of poetry and writing, while also helping each other prepare their work for publication. Old Scratch Press is strictly focused on publishing chapbooks, and one of our goals is to re-vitalize the love of small affordable books.
A chapbook is a very small book in terms of page length. Usually under sixty pages, it can be a great size book for a novelette, a group of short stories, poetry, or flash stories. I wondered where the name came from, so I did a little additional research beyond what I wrote about concerning chapbooks last month. The name comes from the name of the peddler who sold chapbooks, a Chapman. Chap comes from the Old English or Saxon word ceap, meaning a bargain or cheap. And the suffix mann or man is literally what it sounds like. The German equivalent was Kaufman. The name came to describe a merchant or trader who travelled from place to place selling small wares. The small books, chapbooks were affordable, ie a bargain when compared with the cost of books owned by the wealthy class in the 1500's.
Chapbooks followed broadsides as early print products for people of lesser means and learning than the wealthy. Broadsides provided entertainment for the semi-literate because they contained pictures and often featured ballads. Many of the early folksong ballads, sung in taverns or while working in the fields, were shared in the oral tradition and changed with the addition of new verses, which were then sometimes reprinted again in chapbooks. Thus, chapbooks provided affordable reading material to the working class.
Now in the twenty-first century, books are once again a stretch for some people’s budget. If you’ve ever purchased a book lately, you are aware a paperback can cost between ten dollars and thirty-five dollars, depending on page-count and size. Libraries are wonderful places because you can borrow books, enjoy them and return them for someone else to read. However, their selection of titles can be limited. And sometimes you just want to own some books you’d like to reread and travel with and share with friends.
A chapbook, with a lower page count, can sell for as little as four or five dollars. Some publishing houses are intentionally limiting the number of chapbooks they print, in order to make them the collectibles of the future. Other presses are printing their chapbooks on better paper and adding hand stamped embellishments to make their small books unique.
In a literary collective, writers proofread each other’s work, provide leads for performance/reading venues, and help spread the word about upcoming publications. They can also recommend editors, publishers, and publications that might be interested in their colleague’s work.
By helping others to achieve their goals, you can learn a lot about the process, and grow personally and professionally unanticipated ways.
Curious about prose poetry. Here is one, Menudo ( audio reading available) published by Full House .
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