Chapbooks, Poetry and Pen-Pals

Pages of my letters to my new pen-pal!

Welcome back to my blog!

My god, do you realise we’ve been on this lock-down for several months now? Since March? I cannot believe it myself – have I really been working at home for that long?
Yesterday I got to see one of my colleagues (and friends!) for the first time in all that time, and we just picked up where we left off. I complained to her about my problems and she sat at her desk laughing it off with me and offering sage advice. I’ve missed that a lot. We were 2 metres apart of course – the office is taped up and desks moved to force us to keep apart, even if we’re just popping in.

On the house-moving front, we hit a predictable snag – our buyers had to pull out. I was prepared for this, so I didn’t get upset – I’ve been remarkably and uncharacteristically good lately at not exploding into tears when inevitable bad things happen. I don’t know if my personal traumas have toughened me up or if it just comes with age. Perhaps they’re the same thing?

Pen-pals

Anyway, one lovely development is that in one of the groups I frequent on Facebook (Cottagegoth – I know, it’s perfect. A mixture of all things Cottagey, gothy, and witchy – Imagine if Stevie Nicks and Andrew Eldritch had a baby. We’re an eclectic bunch!) a thread was created for those who wanted a pen-pal! Now, I’ve always longed for someone to write to and never actually went about getting a pen-pal. Luckily, this group is full of like-minded people who all love the idea of sending actual, physical letters to one another, just like in the Bronté days. My pen-pal lives on a farm in Texas! How cool is that? I can’t compare to that excitement, but hopefully she’ll enjoy hearing from a tea-loving-English-girl who lives in a rickety old seaside town. I’ve written my first letter and included a photo of me, plus a few links to my blog and insta (though I’m not much of a poser – you should see the astonishingly beautiful photoshoots people do of themselves now-days. Actually, I’m sure you have). I’m hoping to include a postcard of Southend-on-Sea too, so she can get an idea of where I am and what it’s like, of course.

Writing

On the writing-front, I’ve actually got two novels on submission! One is a completed children’s novel, which I’ve only sent to 5 agents so far and will be sending to others, and the other is a romantic gothic YA – only the first 16,000 words. The latter is actually for a mentorship programme run by a literary agency in the UK, offering representation to an author they see great promise in, but who needs a little help guiding their book along. As I had a finished book and a work in progress, I decided I had nothing to lose in submitting my plans and chapters of the work in progress. Of course, as always, I don’t expect to get anywhere – but I’m giving myself a fair chance by trying anyway.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a break from novels and been working on some poetry. Did you know that poetry doesn’t sell to agents? Well, yes, of course you did – but that’s because poetry is meant for sharing, and it’s hard to sell poetry books to a publisher. Only the biggest and best poets get their works published with the ‘Big Five’ and that’s because they’re so renowned. This isn’t including the new wave of “Insta poets”, of course – these are people who had an enormous platform and they did make whopping amounts of money off their poetry and got on the NYT bestsellers lists. That’s rare of course – most average poets, even moderately successful ones, don’t see their work make particular bank – not in and of itself, anyway. People who have press appeal and become famous can of course sell anything, and there are some very famous modern poets like John Cooper-Clarke, Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, etc. Some of the world’s most beloved historical writers and artists (in fact most of them actually) were not rich or famous while alive. It’s just that their work lasted longer than they did.

Anyway, because of the fact that new poetry rarely sells to the big agents and publishers, one thing a lot of poets do is create chapbooks as a way of sharing at poetry readings or even selling their work. Chapbooks tend to be no more than 20-30 pages and are self-published and usually self-printed and bound, which makes them wonderful little oddities and works of limited-edition art. Chapbooks are usually confined to a small print-run, which is hand-numbered, to make them extra special. I think that’s a beautiful way to get to know someone, certainly – to buy or receive a small collection of their poems, all printed and bound by their own hands.

So, naturally, I want to make one of my own! I decided to work on poems about my journey through diagnosis, surgery, and my time in hospital, encapsulating those thoughts and feelings into a small chapbook. I’m still working on it now, but I plan to illustrate, format and print it myself. The lovely thing about chapbooks is you can use creative licence; they are what you make them, and they are a little piece of you. So far my chapbook has about 14 poems and is under the working title “We Found a Shadow“. I can’t decide whether the subtitle should be ‘Poems from a hospital bed’ or ‘Poems about my tumour’, though both are totally accurate.

Chapbooks!

Look at these gorgeous cover illustrations!

Naturally, research means I need to buy a load of chapbooks! These are all from Analog Submission Press, whom I discovered on Instagram. They publish small, limited runs of beautiful chapbooks from all sorts of poets, and each can be purchased for the humble price of £4.00.

How can you say no to that? A piece of art that you can enjoy and read over and over for just £4.00!

I had a look through their collection like a kid in a candy shop and settled on the four above, having only their beautiful covers to go by. I’ve read three of them so far, and I’m really impressed. Chapbooks are less about writing technically-clever or technically-masterful-arty-farty-poems of the kind you often find in literary presses, but more about conveying a sense of the writer themselves. It’s one “hot stink” of the writer, as Ted Hughes would put it (The Thought Fox).

Chapbook poetry collections are supposed to tell a story or convey a particular time, emotion, or thing the author was distracted with at the time of writing – they should be poems on a theme, even if that theme is the poet themselves. They shouldn’t be a random assortment of the poet’s favourite pieces. Some of the poems amongst this lot are fantastic, funny – and some of course are hit and miss – but they build up parts of an overall tapestry. I definitely do have a feel for the poets in ways you couldn’t create in a Twitter feed or a Facebook post. I’ve got a little piece of them and best of all, it’s from a limited run! I find that very exciting.

I enjoyed these poems on the final page of Little Irritants by Darcy Isla.

Do you collect chapbooks? Ever made one of your own? I’d be very interested to hear from you, so get in touch.

That’s me for now folks – see you next week!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh