Wednesday, June 29, 2011

London Bridge & The Chapbook

More gleanings from Wikipedia...

The centre of chapbook production was London and, until the Great Fire of London, the printers were based around London Bridge. The numbers are astonishing: in the 1660s as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed annually, enough for one family in three in England. One publisher had in stock one book for every 15 families in the country. Inventory of Charles Tias, of The Sign of the Three Bibles on London Bridge, included books and printed sheets to make c.90,000 chapbooks and 37,500 ballad sheets. This was not regarded as outstanding in the trade!

In the 1520s the Oxford bookseller John Dorne noted sales up to 190 ballads a day at a halfpenny each.

In 1707, Josiah Blare of The Sign of the Looking Glass on London Bridge, listed 31,000 books in inventory, plus 257 reams of printed sheets. A conservative estimate of their sales in Scotland alone later in the century was over 200,000 per year.

This is a lot of reading material floating around the UK!!! Nothing like the onslaught we’re swimming in during this age of internet, but who was reading all this material?

Chapbooks were priced for sales to the worker bees of the Kingdom, and contributed to the development of literacy—which in England in the 17th C. was around 30 percent for males and rose to 60 percent in the 18th C. Many working people were readers, and pre-industrial working patterns provided periods during which they could read. Chapbooks were undoubtedly used for reading to family groups or groups in alehouses.

One chapbook collector wrote: "The printing in many cases was execrable, the paper even worse, and the woodcut illustrations, some of which did duty for various tales regardless of their fitness, were sometimes worse than the paper and presswork combined." However, some chapbooks were long, well produced, and some even historically accurate.

Chapbooks spread popular culture to the common people, especially in rural areas. They provided entertainment, information and (generally unreliable) history. They are now valued as a record of popular culture, preserving cultural artifacts that may not survive in any other form.

Then came the mimeograph machine (remember its purple ink, and that wonderful inky smell?), followed by low-cost copy centers, digital printing, and the cultural revolutions spurred by the internet. The punkification of poetry: everybody gets to play and self-publish. Zines, blogs, poetry slams, followed.

And the chapbook lives again, the darling of indie publishers, romancing artists, poets and postmoderns alike. Hope you will get to like them as much, when Poems from the Boatyard arrives in your mailbox! (I know, when?!?)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to Fetch a Shilling Out of a Handerkerchief

You are all such patient people. I am sure you will receive your book soon, but I don’t know when!!! Hang in there, and perhaps by the 4th?!

In the meantime, let’s continue our trek through chapbook land…

Remember Samuel Pepys from high school English days? He had an interesting collection of 114 chapbooks, which he called "Penny Merriments"--ballads bound into volumes, under these categories:
1. Devotion and Morality
2. History – true and fabulous
3. Tragedy: viz. Murders, executions, and judgments of God
4. State and Times
5. Love – pleasant
6. Ditto – unpleasant
7. Marriage, Cuckoldry, &c.
8. Sea – love, gallantry & actions
9. Drinking and good fellowship
10. Humour, frollicks and mixt.

Wikipedia tells me that “other examples from the Pepys collection include The Countryman's Counsellor, or Everyman his own Lawyer, and Sports and Pastimes, written for schoolboys, including magic tricks, like how to "fetch a shilling out of a handkerchief", write invisibly, make roses out of paper, snare wild duck, and make a maid-servant fart uncontrollably.”

Any ideas on how to fetch a shilling out of a handkerchief?!

And I sincerely hope my chapbook does not have the same affect on you as the schoolboys’ tricks on the handmaiden!!!

Chapbooks continue to charm collectors and wordsmiths: “They can be held in the hand, tucked graciously into a bag, slipped safely into a pocket. They can be read in one sitting. They are inexpensive to produce and purchase, and thus provide a perfect means for getting more new poetry into the world. Their compressed form encourages innovation. Their established relationship with the fine letter press makes them a vehicle for collaboration between artists and writers. They are so easy to read and pass around that conversations and communities are build around them.” (In Praise of the Humble Chapbook, VivĂ© Griffith, Poet’s Market, 2004)

May your patience pay off, and may you soon fall under the charm of chapbooks as you receive your copy!

PS: the chapbook is now available on Amazon, for those of you who have not ordered yet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg & Dad

Chapbooks have played a key role in American poetry, integral to its development in our culture. It has provided a platform for emerging poets, and for that reason attract the indie, experimental and avant garde. Something about chapbooks romances people, and brings out the inner artist in poets. If you want to see an example, take a look at the chapbooks reviewed by Fiddler Crab Review.

About the time my father was contemplating boat plans, two emerging poets were rocking culture: Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg.

Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, NY, eventually resettled in San Francisco and founded the now famous and iconic City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. By 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house--a mecca for a generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals—Bohemians and the Beat generation.

The City Lights Pocket Poets Series was a series of poetry collections—chapbook style—small, affordable paperbacks with a distinctive black and white cover design. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was #4 in the series, and led to obscenity charges for City Lights, who successfully opposed the charges with ACLU’s help. (Who ever thought poetry was genteel!?)

The two men were often described as anarchists, opponents to American imperialism, militarism and capitalism. As one poet described him: “Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a more complicated individual than we’re used to having in American life.”

My father had a few obscene comments himself about the poets, and I’m not a fan of either one either. But they changed the face of poetry, gave it a subversive edge, and endure as cultural icons (Ferlinghetti is still living and active in poetry readings; Ginsberg died in 1997). Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind remains the most popular poetry book in the United States.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chapbooks & Starbucks

A flare from the publisher this week: Poems from the Boatyard is next up in the printer’s queue! Inching forward…

In the meantime, how about a little history on the humble and darling chapbook?

Chapbooks have a long and illustrious career in poetry-dom. Records go as far back as 1553 of “a man offering a scurrilous ballad ‘maistres mass’ at an alehouse, and a pedlar selling ‘lytle books’ to people, including a patcher of old clothes...”

These peddlers—or “chapmen,” from whom the term “chapbook” is derived—were itinerant in England and Scotland. Traveling from town to town, they peddled their small books—pamphlets, political and religious tracts, penny songs, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children’s literature and almanacs—in bars, by-ways and street corners, for a few pence each. Some of our most culturally embedded stories began life as a chapbook: Tom Thumb, Mother Hubbard, and Jack the Giant Killer. Abridged forms of Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe circulated.

The chapbooks were simply constructed, and might have been just a single page, or a multi-page fold-over, up to a 24-page booklet, usually with a woodcut design on the cover. Obviously they didn’t last long in that ephemeral state, and because paper was expensive, they might have ended up as wrapping paper, for baking, or, um, "bum fodder" (i.e., toilet paper).

Chapbooks were traditionally illustrated with crude woodcuts, and they captured the imagination from the 16th C. right up until now, with poetry become more popularized through poetry slams and indie publishing. Chapbook publishers, contests, and grants support this popular form, as cozy and comfortable as the coffeehouses they are more likely to be found in than the big box store. I can’t believe Starbucks isn’t on this. Hmmm…

Today, chapbooks can be hand-made, self-published, a low-cost limited edition press run (like mine), or expensive, special edition works of art. They seem to inspire the artist in each poet, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, saddle-stitched, stapled, or silkscreened, very often with a woodcut, but just as likely to have some original artwork from the poet or a friend.

I say we mobilize and harass Starbucks to get on the ball! Click here and tell 'em you want to see poetry chapbooks! You might have to create an account, but that’s cool—you'll get a free cup of coffee on your birthday...and, if they bite, you can take pride in knowing that you have helped launch a cultural phenonmenon!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is it a Date Yet?!

Still no chapbook, and no word from the publisher, so everyone sit tight!

How about a video in between? This was filmed in the Pawcatuck Film Studio, aka Mom’s house, during my Easter weekend visit with family. I call it "Clarinet." Such cooperative brothers—I have four—and I’m amazed at how willingly everyone got into the spirit of things.

This was filmed after three of us went down to the Greenhaven Marina to try some live action footage in their boatyard, complete with swans lazing about. Alas, the wind did us in. My little point-and-shoot camera isn’t exactly high tech for this sort of stuff, but we had fun. Stay tuned for another try one day when we have a real video camera and no wind.

In the meantime, click here for the first Poems from the Boatyard video!