blackbirdonline journalSpring 2014  Vol. 13  No. 1

Chapbook Omnibus Review


Songs for the Carry-On
by Steve Scafidi

Note Pinned to the Back of a Dress
by Aubrey Lenahan

by Matthew Minicucci

A Disturbance in the Air
by Michele Poulos

A Concordance of Leaves
by Philip Metres


Why publish a chapbook instead of a full-length collection? The curious and skeptical alike have asked me this since I have written two. For me, the format has served several purposes that I’ll relate before examining the five chapbooks featured in this review.

My first chapbook appeared before I had a full-length manuscript and therefore allowed me something tangible to sell—or, rather, more frequently to give—to potential readers. Despite its small print-run as well as the press’s meager visibility and eventual dissolution, I felt a sense of accomplishment that something I had made of words now existed in the world as an object. Calvino insists that, in storytelling, “any object is always magic,” and so perhaps I languished for a time under the object’s spell. Later, of course, I realized that the poems amounted only to “prentice work,” as Robert Hayden judged his own first book. But I gained from the experience. A thesis advisor later suggested that it had provided practice for organizing a full-length manuscript. For many poets, whether they intend to set out on a trial run or not, their chapbooks result in just that. But that doesn’t mean readers should avoid chapbooks for fear that the work’s undercooked. In fact, the first-time authors in this review—Aubrey Lenahan, Matthew Minicucci, and Michele Poulos—all contend that the chapbook offers a viable format for innovative, raw, and compelling new poetry.

My second chapbook allowed me to explore a specific project—experimental poems about animals and animal nature. This particular project arrived at thirty pages, a good chapbook length, and felt complete. Additionally, the chapbook offered a safe place to risk fragmented and polyvocal poems with violent subject matter, a safe space where I could play on the page and question my own relationship with language. Other poets evidently feel the same way. Steve Scafidi and Philip Metres use the chapbook to frame particular projects. Regardless of the reasons one writes a chapbook, its relevance trends from dress rehearsal to full production; and with that in mind, I’d like to give each of the following five chapbooks as much consideration as any other book we review.