What is a Chapbook?

Yesterday, I posted the cover reveal of my upcoming chapbook, Tableau Vivant, to be published by Dancing Girl Press. But what exactly is a chapbook?

A chapbook, at its most basic definition from Writers Digest, is a “small collection of poetry, generally no more than 40 pages, that often centers on a specific theme.” Whether the poems work together to tell a linear narrative or varying perspectives on the theme, the overarching subject stretches across each poem in the collection. The name “chapbook” is not a rendition of “cheap-book,” but rather named for the wares of a chapman (a salesman); though they were sold at low prices, making them accessible to those in villages and hamlets.

According to Wikipedia, chapbooks started as “popular literature printed in early modern Europe…usually [cheaply] printed on a single sheet folded into books of 8, 12, 16, and 24 pages.” Woodcuts were provided for illustration. Also called blue books or pamphlets, chapbooks covered a range of topics from children’s literature and poetry to politics and religion. Folk songs and ballads can even be traced to this style. The cheap, little books were mainly used for popular culture, acting as the 17th century editorial blog.

Today, chapbooks are essentially samples of a poet’s work and writing style. Readers can pick up a chapbook and get a feel of the author. It can be equated to the hit single of a singer’s album, which plays on the radio and entices listeners to seek out the songs on the rest of the album. From a single folded sheet of 17th century parchment to a self-published e-book, chapbooks have found a way to stay available to society over the centuries.

Further details about my own chapbook to be announced.


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