the chapbook interview: Andrea Blythe on poetry challenges, fairy, and Margaret Atwood on Wattpad


You’re the author of a three chapbooks, The Poetry Project (2014), Over the Hill and Through the Woods (2012), and The First Kiss and Other Poems (2007). You also have a BA in Modern Literature. What did you learn in school about the chapbook?

In all my time studying modern literature at the university level, I don’t remember a teacher ever mentioning chapbooks. It wasn’t until after college, when I began to pursue writing as a career (oh, my, the misconceptions I had), that I began to learn about alternative avenues of publication, such as zines, chapbooks, and small presses. It’s been a slow discovery, one largely driven by my growing involvement with creative communities both online and in person. I didn’t quite understand chapbooks at first, what they were and what they were capable off as creative objects. Now, I find myself becoming more and more interested in chapbooks and how small spaces can allow writers room for a great amount of creativity. If I’m at an event and a writer has a chapbook available, it’s pretty much a given that I’m going to buy it. I want to collect as many chapbooks as I can and I am particularly fascinated by beautiful hand-bound and crafted chapbooks, as well as the do-it-yourself possibilities, which is how The First Kiss and Other Poems (and all of my existing chapbooks, really) came about.


You chapbook Over the Hill and Through the Woods retells fairy tales and folk lore. Discuss your process for writing poems based on research and pre-existing texts.

For most of the poems, I wrote based on my own memory of the tales I’ve loved most of my life. Although, for a few, particularly lesser known tales, such as “Snow White and Rose Red,” I refreshed my memory by turning to the traditional versions. Sur la Lune Fairy Tales was particularly helpful in this regard.

Sur la Lune was also where I discovered a third ending for “The Little Mermaid.” The first is the well-known Disney, happily ever after ending. The second ending is rather bleak, in which the prince marries another princess and the mermaid throws herself into the sea, becoming nothing more than sea foam because mermaids don’t have souls. The third ending, as told on Sur la Lune, provides a sadly hopeful ending—when the mermaid casts herself into the sea, she becomes a kind of spirit. As a spirit and by doing good deeds, she is able to earn a soul of her own and ascend to heaven. This third version is what inspired my poem “The Sea Witch,” and it’s the only poem in the collection for which I did additional research, looking into the mythology of sea witches and the kinds of spells they cast, some of which I included in the poem. Most of this information I found online, through wikipedia and other sources.

What contemporary writers do you admire who do similar retelling work?

Catherynne M. Valente is a poet and novelist and her work is phenomenal, with richly textured language. I love the ways she adapts fairy tales and folklore, presenting unique feminist spins on old stories, while still evoking the feeling of magic you get from the original tales. Her novel Deathless retells the Russian folktale, Koschei the Deathless, interweaving historical aspects the Russian Revolution. The folk feeling is maintained through repeated imagery and patterns of three, a common number in folklore. And Valente’s novella Six-Gun Snow White sets the Snow White tale in the Wild West and turns the dwarves into a troupe of female outlaws.

The Fables graphic novel series by Bill Willingham is also fantastic, interweaving multiple fairy tales all into one story with a mixture of frightening and comedic results. Prince Charming is an arrogant, charming jerk, who was married to Snow White, Briar Rose, and Cinderella at one time or another—and they all hate him.

In terms of poetry, I recently read Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann, which explores the horrors of being a teenage girl using fairy tales and mythology.

There are also some excellent lit journals that publish fairy tale and folklore retellings from time to time, such as Goblin Fruit, Stone Telling, and Cabinet Des Fées.


Your chapbook The Poetry Project collects poems inspired by prompts during National Poetry Writing Month. Each poem in the chapbook offers readers an author’s note indicating the prompt that inspired the piece. Talk about prompts as a means towards inspiration. How does such a daily schedule motivate an artist to make new work?

For The Poetry Project, I invited readers to participate by submitting a phrase or word as inspiration for a poem. The actual project took place slowly over the course of a couple of years as readers sent in prompts. Sometimes the prompts would inspire a poem immediately and I would let the words spiral off into whatever direction they wanted to go. Other prompts required more work to wrap my head around and I would spend days or sometimes weeks, kneading the idea like taffy until I could stretch it into something that worked.

What I love about prompts are the ways they stretch the mind. Sometimes I find myself writing about the same kinds of things in the same kinds of ways over and over again. Prompts can get you thinking in new directions, send you down paths you might not have visited before.

I have also participated in a number of National Poetry Writing Month daily challenges and for a year attempted to hand write a poem every morning in a journal. I rarely succeed in completing a daily challenge because I’m too distractible. But daily exercise of my writing skills always feels beneficial. It’s like getting up in the morning and stretching; the more I stretch the looser my muscles feel, but when I leave off for days or weeks, the movement at first is painful. It’s the same with writing—the longer I wait between writing sessions, the harder it is to get back into the flow of words again when I return to the page.

Each of your chapbooks are self-published or use DIY publishing. Talk about the platform used to publish the chapbooks. What are the risks in self-publishing? What are the benefits?

I used Wattpad, a digital publishing platform that is free to both readers and writers, for Over the Hill Through the Woods and The Poetry Project. I learned about Wattpad from Margaret Atwood, who has published some poetry on the site. In 2012, Atwood partnered with Wattpad to hold a poetry contest and I joined the site in order to participate. Over the Hill Through the Woods was created as a result of that contest.

Wattpad is ideally designed for serializing works, allowing writers to post a chapter or portion of a work in progress over a number of weeks or months. The platform is primarily designed for engagement with readers, allowing them to comment on each chapter as they are posted. There is no way for writers to earn money for their work, although I’ve seen a few writers gain enough of a readership to attract the attention of traditional publishers.

One of the biggest benefits to a platform like Wattpad is the way it provides that reader interaction, which was what made The Poetry Project so much fun for me to create. The readers and I were able to participate jointly in the creation of the project, which seemed to make them more invested as the project went on.

The challenge is having to do everything yourself. I had to find a way to create the covers and make them compelling — something I have discovered I’m not very good at. It requires self editing (unless you can afford to pay someone). It also meant doing my own marketing. In the case of Wattpad, this means engaging in the community by participating in chatrooms and reading and commenting other writers’ work — all of which was very time consuming. It was time I could have spent working on another writing project.

I also created a hand-folded chapbook, called The First Kiss and Other Poems, which was a very limited edition (less than fifty, I believe) for those who donated to my Hike for Discovery fundraising challenge. This was fantastic fun (though all the hand-folding was quite tedious) and I loved holding the tiny little book in my hand. I always think about what sorts of hand-folded book I might try again, but then I remember how long it actually took to do the folding and I hesitate.


How do you define chapbook? A small-ish book of writing under 40 pages.

What makes a good chapbook? My favorite poetry chapbooks have a theme of some sort, so that they unfold almost like a story. A beautiful binding of some sort also fills me with joy.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? I adore 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford and TEN by Val Dering Rojas. Both are very different, but what they have in common is vivid language and beautiful printings.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? I start with poems I’ve published and look through my files for what I consider to be my best work. Then, I organize them by similar tone in order to find a cohesive whole. This is a skill that I’m still in the process of learning.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? Gathering up and reading as many chapbooks as I can get a hand on helps immensely in understanding what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned a lot from my friend Allie Marini, who released two chapbooks so far this year — Pictures From the Center of the Universe and wingless, scorched & beautiful — with more on the way. Her chapbooks have a great sense of theme, which I’m just learning to apply to my own work.

What’s next for you? I recently finished a chapbook collection called Sincerely Yours, In Spirit, If Not Yet In Body, which is out on submission. I’m hoping it will get picked up and published within the next year. I’m working on a book length collection of poetry and have a novel in poems that I am in the progress of putting together.

Number of chapbooks you own: Not nearly enough, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe a dozen, but probably less.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: Around a dozen, so far, I think. Again, not nearly enough.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I read and review chapbooks and post the reviews on my blog and elsewhere. I’ve also started a Poet Spotlight interview series to highlight poets whose work I enjoy. I try to be active in attending open mics, book launches, and other author events to cheer others on and buildup my chapbook collection.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Earnings? What are those?

Your chapbook wish:To connect with an artist and cooperatively put together some sort of limited edition, hand-bound mixture of words and illustrations.

Residence: Bay Area, California.

Job: I’m a managing editor at a technical trade magazine.

Bio: Andrea Blythe graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Modern Literature. She lives in the Bay Area of Northern California, where she writes poetry and fiction. Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including Nonbinary Review, Linden Avenue, Chiaroscuro (ChiZine), Strange Horizons, Perigee, Bear Creek Haiku, and Chinquapin. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. You can find her on the web at:


the chapbook interview: Dennis Etzel Jr. on spending less than a dollar to put work out into the world


You’re the author of the chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers (2013) and a forthcoming book from BlazeVOX Books. What did you learn in MFA school about the chapbook as a genre?

Long story short, I started sending off for sample chapbooks in 1995, using the Poets Market as a guide. From that, I started making my own, as well as chapbooks featuring open-mic poets from a weekly Topeka series at a coffeehouse. If I learned anything about the genre, it was from my own study of the aesthetic of figuring out what poems should go in a collection, what order should they be in, etc. I guess that comes from close readings, figuring out if subject, emotion, theme, etc. is the determining factor for what and how poems are placed together.

Part of my background is being a computer programmer/analyst. I worked from 1998-2004 at two different corporate jobs as a programmer/analyst, while taking night courses between 2002-04 for my second degree in English–and the leap out of that world into grad school.

The most education about chapbooks during my MFA came from visiting writers, sharing chapbooks with other MFA students, holding and reading hand-pressed chapbooks (which I love), and studying the all-around aesthetic of book-making; for example, noticing how McSweeney’s strive for quality and uniqueness in their books. However, I value how any chapbook is made, especially as someone can spend less than a dollar to put her or his work out into the world. That is awesome to me!


Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality and your chapbook The Sum of Two Moms, talk about your interests in poetry of resistance, poetry of witness, and disobedient poetry.

As a survivor of abuse (at home and at school), my first poems were geared for poetry of witness, and Sharon Olds was the first poet I read. Definitely, the confessional/post-confessional poets drew my interest, and it still feels like I find ways to write out of experience without being “too confessional”–the rejection slip mantra of those first submissions.

I lean now towards finding ways to write poetry of resistance, and admire disobedient poetry too–like kari edwards. As far as Modernists, I love H.D. and Gertrude Stein, what they were doing to not line up with “the poetess” of the times. Stein especially, with Tender Buttons. I also love her “Patriarchal Poetry” poem. I love Quo-Li Driskill’s work, on and off the page. Adrienne Rich is always a go-to, and I admire her Poetry and Commitment speech. I carry around that small book often.

I love how small presses are publishing these kinds of works–to other audiences interested in writing for change. When I think of a new project, it can’t not be about how the poems will revolve around social change or ways of looking at constructions (like mask-ulinity).

Now that there is marriage equality, I am at work on new poems, developing Sum into a larger work.

I adore The Sum of Two Moms. I recently visited Topeka and had the opportunity to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Place, cultural norms, and the laws that govern inform the stories told in The Sum of Two Moms. I know you have a book forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books. How does place feature in your new collection?

I know “poetry of place” is one of those hookline tropes, but for poets who were born, raised, or ever lived in Topeka, it is a truth. In fact, I compiled a “Welcome to Topeka Cento” poem, made up of lines from such poets, where the line contained or referred to Topeka or Kansas. See attachment.

It seems everyone who has been a part of Topeka writes about Topeka. In fact, CA Conrad is giving a reading and doing a PACE project here July 17 and 18. CA was born in Topeka.

Also, I am keeping a list:

Cyrus Console confirmed the advice often given for writing about “where you come from,” that it is important to leave. I haven’t been handed that opportunity. I try to find ways to reexamine Topeka:

I’m also a fifth-generation Topekan, so maybe this “home” is home for future Etzels?

I am currently working on other Topeka projects, like Kaia-Sandesque drifts and such. Also, my John Brown project will be finished next week–which leads to answering your second question soon.

How do you define chapbook? Twenty to thirty pages

What makes a good chapbook? Good poems (or writing).

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days?  I love what Kristy Bowen does with Dancing Girl–many of the chapbooks are inspirational themselves, as well as how she is getting wonderful poetry out there in an affordable form.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Anne Boyer’s Good Apocalypse (Effing Press, 2006) amazed me. I had put my own chapbooks together with “random art” alongside poems, but Anne’s chap really was a work of art. Her flarflike poems about struggling with poverty, as well as her clippings-meet-texts art stunned me. It still is one of my favorites.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? A common theme–something that arches.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? When I assemble my poems together, I still consider cutting that “best poem” to make the collection feel more cohesive. It is keeping in mind that, even if a chapbook competition says “no longer than 36 pages,” the selected chapbook might have only 26 pages–and those 26 pages are wonderful.

What’s next for you? My next chap is based on a psychogeographic drift I did around the middle school I went to. It is inspired by Kaia Sand’s Remember to Wave.

Current chapbook reading list:
Southern Cryptozoology by Allie Marini Batts

Doll Studies: Forensics by Carol Guess

Number of chapbooks you own: over 100

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: 50ish

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. Really, I feel the chapbook is the best way one can get her or his words out to others. It only takes five-seven full-size pages to make copies of, fold-over, staple, and carry around to hand out. I encourage people to do that, as well as send their work to chapbook presses they might enjoy being a part of.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I also post links on my facebook page. I like taking pictures of the cover’s of books, with my eyes peering over.

Your chapbook credo: Trade ’em, buy ’em, read ’em.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: On others’ chapbooks

Your chapbook wish: To get a shelf full of chapbooks.

Residence: Topeka, Kansas

Job: Lecturer of English at Washburn University

the chapbook interview: Michael Skau on God, humor, and art

You’re the author of a two books of literary criticism, a full-length book of poetry, and the chapbook of poetry, Me and God Poems (Brady Press, 1990). What did you learn in school about the chapbook as a genre? As a writing teacher, what did you teach your students about the chapbook as a vessel for poems?

I learned very little about chapbooks while I was at school. I thought that chapbooks were primarily for religious tracts (ironic then that I published a chapbook titled Me and God Poems). My graduate degrees were in literature, not in creative writing. My dissertation was eventually on Themes and Movements in the Beat Generation. As I researched this topic, I became more familiar with chapbooks because the Beat writers published many of their works as chapbooks during the 1960s and 1970s. However, I was also confused about the nature of the chapbook itself. It is usually a short collection of related materials, but how does one define short? Ferlinghetti was publishing his Pocket Poets Series of books beginning in the 1950s with his own short work Pictures of the Gone World. These “books” were 4 3/4″ by 6 1/8″ in size. Ferlinghetti’s book contained 36 pages of poetry. The tenth book in the series, The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen contains 42 pages of poems. Are these “small”? Are they chapbooks? A later series of works by the Beat-related writers more clearly fit into the category if only because of the title of the series: Published in Heaven Chapbook Series. However, too often for me the nature of the category involves “blurred lines.” Poems by an individual author are often closely related in theme and style, if only because they have the same creator and shaper. Other publishers of small books with Beat titles included Arif, Atticus, Bisbee Press Collective, and Hanuman Books. Many of these and other publishers of Beat works were short-lived, perhaps because of the subterranean and subversive quality of the literature itself.

As for my teaching, I taught courses in literature (the only writing courses which I taught were introductory composition courses and writing courses for English majors, and neither of these lent themselves to discussion of chapbooks).


What I particularly admire about your full-length book Me & God (WSC Press, 2014) that collects poems from your chapbook, is your humor and wit and the ways in which the character of god is cast with the expected powers of greatness, ones that work as a delightful foil for the me/I/eye of the poems’ speaker. What poets do you admire who do this same work? What specific collections or styles do you find provocative?

I am glad that you enjoyed the humor in my book. I treat a number of serious issues and themes, sometimes symbolically, in the poems, and I feel that humor, after love, is one of the best balms for easing discomfort and one of the best methods for disarming objections. The poet, however, has to be careful not to let the humor supplant the themes (I discarded many drafts of poems which I felt violated this latter principle). As for the use of foils, as my introduction indicates, “The God that I have fashioned for the poems is one whom I have created in my own likeness.” The advantage here is that I can invest the God figure with my own faults and flaws, and this makes criticism of him much easier. The disadvantage is that the poems encompass a God based on myself, a first person speaker (“I” or “me”) also modeled on myself, and I the poet, who is manipulating the other two: the process can be quite schizophrenic. I try to balance the scales here by sometimes giving God the upper hand, sometimes allowing the I or me to undermine God, and sometimes portraying them both as either right or wrong.

I guess that the poet whom I most admire who is doing anything similar to what I am attempting in Me & God would be William Butler Yeats in his Crazy Jane poems. His Crazy Jane is a wounded figure who tries to assert her own personal voice in the midst of untrustworthy fellow humans and against the representatives of unfeeling authority. Another influence would be Dostoyevsky’s Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, a story which Ivan tells Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov (one of my poems, “Beliefs,” even alludes to Ivan’s conclusion of this story). Finally, the complaints against God find a parallel in Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, to which another of my poems, “Potters,” also alludes.

My style owes something to Yeats, Frost, Eliot, and Auden. I deliberately attempt to cultivate a colloquial voice, a vernacular usage (for example, “me” as part of the compound subject of a clause), but also to work often with form. Thus, sixteen of the poems are in tetrameter, eight in pentameter, two in trimeter, five in a mixture of tetrameter and trimeter, and four in a mixture of tetrameter and pentameter (if you did not notice these structures, that is OK; they are there for me as the poet to maintain control over emotional materials, not for the reader to recognize). That leaves eight poems which are free verse, and I worked doggone hard to set them free.

The poem “Social Network” in Me & God explores the phenomenon of social media sites like facebook, the type of possible social interactions that occur there, and the ways friendings and friends suggest a sociability that is hard to decode. In the final stanza, the poem addresses “liking”: “we hit Like buttons to preen the fur/ of other monkeys’ egos, hoping that they/ will like us in return” (52). Talk about your use of social media. In your answer, talk about inspiration—many of the poems attend to aspects of daily living (e.g. social sites, city streets, video games, TV, sports, etc.) in a world that’s recognizable, even if one of the denizens of the Midwest city evoked is God.

Yes, my poems situate themselves in the late 20th century and the early 21st century by alluding to the artifacts, activities, and interests of everyday people, whether they be sports, popular music, films, television, pinball machines, video games, marijuana, or social media sites. These are various aspects of contemporary cultural life, and they span the rural and urban areas of America. To ignore them would be pretentious and dishonest. The danger of including them is that American cultural life is fluid and often short-lived, and the allusions may well be passé soon, requiring footnotes to explain, for example, The Daily Show, much as Milton’s “Lycidas” may need footnotes to explain his allusions to Arethuse and Hippotades, Shelley to identify his reference to Mænad in “Ode to the West Wind,” and Ginsberg to clarify his use of Bickford’s, bop, and kaballa in “Howl.” However, the writer who limits his references to those which are likely to transcend the fickle finger of time is imposing upon the works shackles which prevent the poems from circulating freely among his or her audiences–and somehow the poems which I mentioned have maintained fame and popularity. I would be foolish to suggest that my poems might last as long as Milton’s, Shelley’s, and even Ginsberg’s. My only defense is that I incorporate into my poems the world in which I live and the cultural features of it. Perhaps this becomes a sorry–and sad–commentary on the flimsiness of my own life.

For myself I am an avid fan of many college and professional sports (though only a fair to middling participant in them), and I probably watch more television than I should. I enjoy movies, and I am especially fond of rock ‘n’ roll. I am on facebook, but I participate there primarily as a lurker: I prefer interactions which are private and personal, rather than social–perhaps because, as a teacher, I spent so many years exposing my feelings, opinions, and beliefs at the front of a classroom. Therefore, my own social interactions are much more restricted than those of most of my contemporaries. In fact, I am such a dinosaur that I do not even own a smartphone. I already have more than enough diversions and distractions in my life.

I recently attended Authorfest at Bellevue Public Library in Bellevue Public Library that included a panel on the topic “How Do I start – becoming a writer” with other local writers such as Cat Dixon, Margaret Lukas, Robin Donovan, Marcia Forecki, and Carol Umberger. A librarian in the audience asked, “How do you know when a poem is done?” Cat Dixion noted she workshopped her poems with her writers group and they helped her listen more closely to her work. Cat also said that not all writers had or wanted writers groups and mentioned that she’d asked you a similar question. I’m curious. How do you know when a poem is done?

How to tell when a work of art is completed is a problem which artists have confronted throughout history. In fact, there is an old saying, “A work of art is never finished; it is only abandoned” (the source of this statement is even much debated; I have seen it attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, E. M. Forster, and W. H. Auden, but the most likely source seems to be Paul Valéry). The point of the quotation is hardly surprising. Like everybody else, artists continue to grow throughout their lives and, more importantly, to learn more their craft. The desire to incorporate newly learned wisdom is a natural one, and this explains why so many poets (Yeats particularly comes to mind) continue to revise their works over the course of decades. I have been working on a new series of poems about poets’ attitudes toward craft, themes, and techniques. I call the series The Old Poets, and one of the poems in the series is titled “Betrayed” (it was published in the periodical Red Owl in 2000) and addresses this very topic: “My poems are former / friends from whom I grew / estranged at publication / for treating me so badly.” The point is that the poet can grow even between the period of composition and that of publication. As a result, poems written even just a few years ago can later seem puerile or limited in their breadth or depth. In fact, in many cases, it would be surprising if poets did not look back at their earlier works with disappointment. All that the poet can provide is an accurate portrait of his/her beliefs and concerns at a particular stage of his/her development. Few poets can create butterflies; most of us must be content to create poetic pupae (which can, nevertheless, have their own beauty, strength, and integrity).

How do you define chapbook? A chapbook is a booklet of twenty (long enough to develop a measure of substance) to thirty-five (staying short of the thoroughness usually associated with full-length books) pages of primary material (excluding foreword, dedication, contents, etc) closely related in theme, subject matter, and/or technique.

What makes a good chapbook? The collection should have a coherence to it, whether that be a traditional beginning, middle, and end or a developed exploration of a particular idea or theme, recognizing the inherent conflicts and contradictions. The collection should not conclude with a cliff-hanger or leave the reader expecting more.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? Quality and coherence (which does not exclude variety).

What’s next for you? I am putting together a manuscript (The Old Poets, to which I referred earlier) to submit as a chapbook. Seventeen of these poems have already been published in a variety of different periodicals.

Current chapbook reading list: Walking the Campus–William Kloefkorn; The Patron Saint of Lost and Found–Greg Kosmicki; Threnody–Laura Madeline Wiseman; What It Looks Like, How It Flies–Steve Langan

greg books

Number of chapbooks you own: Probably about 25.

Number of chapbooks you have read: About 15.

Where do you spend your chapbook earnings: I have published only one chapbook, for which I received no monetary compensation.

Residence: Omaha, NE.

Job: Retired.

 Michael Skau April 2015

the chapbook interview: Barbara Schmitz on spiritual lessons, chapbooks, and learning writing from Allen Ginsberg

You’re the author of a memoir, three full-length poetry collections, Always the Detail, How Much Our Dancing Has Improved, and How to Get Out of the Body, and three chapbooks of poetry. What did you learn in school about the chapbook as a genre? As a writing teacher, what did you teach your students about the chapbook as a vessel for poems?

I studied writing at Naropa Institute but Naropa was just getting started when I went there in the 70’s—it was a combination poetic school, meditation center, Tibetan language and dance.  Chogyum Trunpa was the guru—he was also a poet and Allen Ginsberg was his meditation student. Ginsberg brought many writers from the New York School—most of them were not teachers, although I have to say some of them took on teaching and made a real effort.  Anne Waldman was the co-founder and had lead the poetry scene at St. Mark’s Place in New York in the 60’s.  She was serious, hard-working but also had too much to do—I learned the most from her and also Ginsberg.  Allen realizing most of “the kids” coming here were influenced by the Beats and had read the Beats but not much else, backed up and began teaching classical literature back to Christopher Smart. I’d studied literature.  I had a Masters Degree in literature (from UNO) and was teaching English.  In the classes I took—I never was formally enrolled in a “writing program—just came in the summer when I was off from my teaching job at Northeast—no one addressed publication, chapbooks, et. al. They probably did that when they got accreditation and really offered a degree in writing.  In was the 70’s—much partying going on nightly, many, many readings, students from all over the U.S. and other places gathered together for just a few weeks in the summer—hot tubs, drinking (encouraged by Trunpa) and psychedelics.  Sometimes it was surprising anybody got any serious writing done. I mostly learned about poetry there by going to so many readings and letting the sound just wash over me and not worrying about meaning,

My creative writing students at Northeast were mostly beginners—people who were yearning to write but didn’t know how to get started.  We spent time reading good writing and discussing it, doing assigned attempts in whatever form they wanted to create.  I tried to help them find “their subjects” by having them make a presentation about a significant emotional event in their life and then do some writing about it.  They had to read aloud for five minutes at the end of the semester at a formal reading. My last couple years at Northeast I taught a Polishing, Publishing, Performing class where I addressed publication—they had to search for markets and send work out but we never got as far as collections (chapbooks).  Northeast is a community college—I wanted to build an AA degree in writing but never got it done.

I’ve been reading your spiritual memoir Path of Lightning: A Seeker’s Jagged Journey (Pinyon Publishing, 2012), a book that you note you worked on during a residency in New Mexico at The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Taos is such a wonderfully, rich place for reflection and writing. How did your time there influence and support the writing of the memoir?

I love Taos.  I have a line in a poem which reads essentially, “God lives there” about descending from the shrine which holds D.H. Lawrence’s ashes on the Donner Ranch.  We started going to Taos in the 70’s to visit Natalie Goldberg who lived in an adobe house without a bathroom. She and her husband showered at the local pool.  We bought land with Natalie on the mesa; she lived in a Michael Reynolds House (made of old tires, ecological materials, and was solar powered).  We eventually sold her our land to build a Zendo.

The Mable Dodge House was wonderful–all the vibes and spirit of all who had lived/stayed there including Carl Jung (whom I taught in my mythology class), Lawrence, Ansel Adams.  I was asked if I would like to stay in the Georgia O’Keefe Room?! I pretty much stayed there undisturbed by Housekeeping who left me an occasional clean towel.  I walked downtown at night choosing from a myriad of fine restaurants for dinner.  The international film festival was on when I was there so I met some interesting artists/filmmakers at a reception Mable Dodge held.

I dreamed and dreamed.  I dreamed a whole poetry anthology with illustrations but couldn’t remember any of it on awakening.  (No tv, no phone) I dreamed the Pope died and was riding an elephant in eternity with Pir Vilayat (the deceased head of the Sufi Order).  When I called home a couple days later Husband told me the Pope had died.  When I talked to my spiritual guide later he told me Pir Vilayat loved elephants.

I wrote. I rewrote and sat absorbing the gorgeous ambience of creative energy and love (and chickens on the roof).

I’ve read two other spiritual memoirs—Mary Karr’s Lit (Harper Perennial, 2010), Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love (Riverhead books, 2007)and now have just finished yours, Path of Lightning. In reflecting on a moment about your publishing career and when you’d considered giving up writing, you write in Path of Lightning that, “In meditation the answer came to me. I didn’t need to give up writing. Writing brought me many rewards. I got to live my life twice, reliving the events I was writing about, embracing and cherishing them another time. My memory was a lot better than most of my friends’ memories because I was paying attention and taking everything in and then writing it down. Also, I had a wonderful written record of my life. I didn’t want to give all that up, even if I never published a book. The only solution was to give up the suffering. The comparing and the competition, feeling the injustice of others’ work getting recognition while mine was not,” (199-200). After you’ve given up suffering, you begin publishing books and chapbooks and winning awards for your work. What other spiritual lessons transformed your career as a writer since the release of your memoir? Has your writing changed directions since the release of Path of Lightning?

The writing hasn’t gotten any easier.  I still have to sit in front of the blank page but I know if I persist, as William Stafford said, “Something will occur” and, if I keep at it regularly, writing comes more easily.  I wrote a poem nearly every day in April (Poetry Month) and the poems came more quickly and without as much struggle by month’s end.

Let’s see—spiritual lessons:

  • To aid other writers as much as possible.  Their successes do not diminish mine.
  • Becoming more conscious and present.  Then I am able to take my experiences in more deeply and remember “Details.”
  • Love beauty and make as much of it around me as possible.
  • Breathe—slows you down and makes you aware.
  • I find myself remembering old songs (some from the 50’s) and sometimes incorporating snatches.
  • Attempting to be open—even to forms of writing I don’t “get” at immediately.  To look and see what’s there that could inform my work.
  • Sufi practice is basically to try to see the Divine in everyone, everywhere.

Changed Directions? Perhaps more precise and descriptive. I am writing some things I don’t necessarily want to share with everyone.  Ginsberg taught me early not to censor and people remark on the honesty of my work but lately some things I’ve never told anyone have appeared on the page. I want to write more prose, personal essay.  I wrote a whole notebook full about my relationship with my husband, then quit.  I’m not ready to share this or know what will become of it. I am a grandma now and I’m noticing I’m thinking more about what goes into print.

How do you define chapbook? A chapbook is a small book of poetry—usually 20-25 pages, collected around a particular theme—and appeals because it’s small and inexpensive.

What makes a good chapbook? A good chapbook would be alive, skilled writing with a theme threaded through the poems. Most importantly the poems in a chapbook have to play off of each other in some way.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Several years ago Mark Sanders, when he had Sandhills Press, brought out a whole chapbook series titled Main-Traveled roads with well and lesser known poets, a couple books of essay in there too.  They were wonderful, inspiring—I think I have the whole series—about 18.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Greg Kosmicki and Matt Mason probably have impacted my writing the most as far as chapbook poets—I also have not had access to many chapbooks lately.  Two women from my writing group, Karen Wingett and Lin Brummels have new chapbooks from Finishing Line.

What’s next for you? Next?  I’m wondering about a chapbook collection of my long poems—haven’t seen anything like that.

Current chapbook reading list: I could use a chapbook reading list!  Not had access to newer ones.

Number of chapbooks you own: I probably own about 50 chapbooks—could be more, didn’t go through my whole library…

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: I’ve read all of those—I think I’ll read them again—got them out to answer these questions—they are calling to me.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. My commitment to the community?—if someone has a chapbook, I’ll buy it if I know about it!

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: You must be kidding about how I spend my chapbook earnings?!

Your chapbook wish: I wish all good chapbooks would find a publisher and a wide audience.

Residence: I live in Norfolk, Nebraska

Job: .  I am emeritus professor of English and a writer.

Chapbook education: I have had no chapbook education.

Chapbooks: The Lives if the Saints (Sandhills), The Upside Down Heart (Sandhills), What Bob Says (Pudding House) and I keep thinking there is one more but I don’t find it on my shelves.


CFP BARED anthology on bras and breasts, deadline September 18, 2015

Forthcoming from Les Femmes Folles Books, Bared seeks art and poetry on bras and breasts by women writers and women artists. Poets and artists bare their best breasts clad in bras, bare-chested, or both to boast their barbaric yawps in poems, in paint, in pictures, and art. Bared features artful couplings and dynamic duos, and is double trouble, double the fun, and sometimes in double Ds.

Bared explores the gendered narratives that clothe the body. Considering gender subversion in poetry to critique the traditional male gaze, theories on the gendered body, and feminist reflections on the love/hate relationship women have with fashion and the body, the poets and artists collected in Bared resist narratives on the female body by boldly presenting alternatives. The critical introduction draws on feminist scholarship and poetics of resistance and disobedience to consider how objects that adorn us tell stories about the gendered body and how work across artistic genres offers strategic moments of resistance. Bared presents one hundred poets and artists, including the artists Lee Child, Lauren Reinaldi, Maria Raquel Cochez, Amy Kollar Anderson, Bonnie Gloris, Janet Decker Yanez, and the poets Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, Nin Andrews, Alison Luterman, Jehanne Dubrow, Diane Lockward, Alicia Ostriker, Ellen Bass, and many, many more.

Poetry Submission:

New, unpublished poetry is preferred. Submit 3-5 unpublished poems along with a 50-100 word bio in the body of the email or as a doc to <lesfemmesfollesbooks(at)> (replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail) with “Bared Submission” in the subject line. This is the preferred submission. Please also include in your submission a list of your favorite poems and art about bras and breasts by women.

Or: The anthology will accept previously published poems, as long as the author retains the rights to the work or that it can be reprinted at no cost other than acknowledgement to the original source. Submit 3-5 previously published poems along with a 50-100 word bio in the body of the email or as a doc to <lesfemmesfollesbooks(at)> (replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail) with “Bared Submission” in the subject line. For this submission, please also include the following: 1) the title of your poem; 2) the name of the book, journal, or anthology where it originally appeared; 3) the name of the press or journal who published it; 4) the year or issue it was published. Please double check to make sure that you as the author retain the rights to this poem(s) or that it can be reprinted at no cost other than acknowledgement to the original source. Please also include a list of your favorite poems and art about bras and breasts by women.

Art Submission:

Submit 3-5 images as a .jpg labeled with your last name and title along with a 50-100 word bio written in the third person in the body of the email to <lesfemmesfollesbooks(at)> (replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail) with “Bared Submission” in the subject line. Please include an art information sheet. Please also include a list of your favorite poems and art about bras and breasts by women.

All contributors will receive a copy of the anthology as well as a discount to purchase additional copies. Deadline for submissions is September 18, 2015. Exhibitions, readings, and events are already in the works.

the chapbook interview: Abigail Welhouse on bad babies, color coding poems, and pre-00’s

Bad Baby author

Humor informs the poetics in your chapbook Bad Baby (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). What poets do you admire who do this same work? What specific collections or styles do you find provocative?

I admire poets that can pivot between lightness and seriousness (or inhabit both places at once). Sometimes playing with language can make us jump from something cartoonish to finding out something true. I liked both of Patricia Lockwood’s books, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I heard her read “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics,” about Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, at the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival last year, and she was hilarious in a way that made me think.

I also enjoy work by poets who don’t keep themselves locked into tight genre boundaries, like Joyelle McSweeney’s play The Contagious Knives. She said in an interview with Entropy that her exuberance is “more volatile than her rage.” I identify with that.

Bad Baby jacket

Your sequence addresses issues of gender—violence against women, gender roles, motherhood, sexuality and desire—and of course, the cover is bright pink. How does feminism inform your work?

Those are all issues that I’ve written about much more directly in some of my other poems, like “Immaculate,” a poem about the Virgin Mary that the Heavy Feather Review published. So I’m glad that you can still hear them in this chapbook, which is more playful and aggressive, and I think less direct in its approach to feminism.

I started writing Bad Baby after I heard a “This American Life” episode about babies gone bad. How do we know if that could happen to us? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we know very little about what’s going to happen to us in our lives. So part of what I want to address is uncertainty, and how everything, especially love, is a risk.

The cover design is based on a retainer that I had made on a recent trip back to Appleton, the town in northeast Wisconsin where I grew up. The orthodontist told me that the technology had changed a lot since I’d gotten my previous retainer, and that he could make it look however I wanted. I asked him to make it hot pink, with a black skull & crossbones, and the words “Bad Baby.” I sent a photo to Kristy Bowen, my publisher, and she found that gorgeous bright pink cardstock that you see today. I love that it reminds me of a zine in the punk or riot grrrl traditions. We also thought about putting glitter on the cover, but ultimately decided it was too much trouble to figure out how to make it not get everywhere.

Bad Baby is your first chapbook. What did you learn in your MFA program about the chapbook as a genre?

I most often heard about chapbooks as an end-of-semester portfolio that contained all of the final revisions, thoughtfully ordered, with a title page, and maybe with a photo of a French bulldog wearing a monocle on the cover (okay, maybe that was just mine). I was in a few workshops that exchanged chapbooks at the end of the semester, whether physical copies or electronic.

I remember feeling panicked when I was first encouraged to figure out how to order poems in a manuscript. David Groff, one of my professors at CCNY, was exceptionally patient, and encouraged me to look at what poems speak to one another, and whether I have poems that ask questions that others start to answer or otherwise explore.

Michelle Valladares, another CCNY professor who was also my thesis advisor, had a useful suggestion. She told me to print out a tiny version of my manuscript, with four pages fitting on one page, and cut it up to have an easily-rearranged physical version of my manuscript. I taped the miniature pages to the wall in a tiny room in my apartment that I call my Poetry Room. (When I say tiny room, it’s in the way that people in New York sometimes call their fire escapes “balconies.” It’s about 25 square feet, which is just enough room to have a wall for poems in progress, and another wall for my friends’ broadsides. Right now I have some from Elaine Equi, Lisa Marie Basile, Anthony Cappo, Gregory Crosby, and Joanna Valente — and the last three of those include art by Ted Chevalier.)

In addition to using these miniature printed copies to rearrange poems, I ended up doing a lot of color coding. Certain poems felt blue, others red, sometimes both — so I marked the sheets with crayon scribbles. I don’t have synesthesia, but I find that trying to apply one kind of art to another is useful. I think of how I used to arrange tracks on mix CDs for my friends. That’s a similar skill to putting chapbooks together.

Myth, whimsy, popular culture, and the unexpected juxtaposition of imagery fills Bad Baby. I should say, specifically, thank you for including Lite-Brite in your poem and the many references to the pre-00’s era. Talk about your writing and inspiration process.

When I wrote Bad Baby, I was writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month for the first time ever. I wrote the title poem, which was first published in the Cross Review, on April 1, 2014. Almost every poem in this chapbook is a revised version of something I wrote that month. I also started sending out Secret Poems — what I call poems that haven’t been sent out for publication yet — on

I wrote the poems with pre-00’s references while watching all six seasons of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix. I never watched this show when it was on the air.  I was (and still am) one of those chronically over-scheduled people who can’t commit to watching a show in real time. But I started watching it, and before I knew it, I was hooked on what’s essentially a Greek play of a teenage drama, with the players contractually clad in American Eagle.

Michelle Williams, who plays the “bad girl from New York,” is a national treasure. In lesser hands, that character would be a complete cliché, straight out of a reductive madonna/whore dichotomy. But Michelle Williams gives her nuance, and she’s so luminous that you can’t help but watch. (This is still true — I got to see her in Cabaret on Broadway last fall, and she gave Sally Bowles a real sense of vulnerability.)

I also kept thinking, as I was watching, how strange it must be to start out relatively unknown, and transition to being huge celebrities while still playing the same characters. You always hear about teen celebrities wanting to break free and make people notice that they’re not children anymore. Maybe in some ways, teen celebrities are the ultimate “bad babies.”

How do you define chapbook? A short book, sometimes focused around a particular theme.

What makes a good chapbook?
I like to read books that make me see things differently than before. The same as a longer book, I think.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days?  
When Bad Baby was first accepted by dancing girl press, I read a bunch of other dancing girl press poets. I particularly loved Twos by Emma Aylor, Undressing by Nicole Steinberg, Mesmer by Joanna Penn Cooper, Talking Doll by J. Hope Stein, In the Way of Harbors by Alexandra Mattraw, and S by Sarah V. Schweig.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? I look for which poems have something to say to one another.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet?
Writing a lot, and getting older.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a full-length manuscript, Immaculate, and another chapbook, Too Many Humans of New York.

Current chapbook reading list:
Nicole Steinberg’s Clever Little Gang, Lisa Marie Basile’s war/lock, J. Hope Stein’s [Mary]:, and many more.

Number of chapbooks you own:
Let’s see. I own five chapbooks from the Operating System (Spooky Action at a Distance by Gregory Crosby and all four from the woodcut series), 7 or 8 from dancing girl press, The Ice Poems by Paige Taggart, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body by Stephanie Lenox, and various others from friends and poets I’ve seen read over the years. Oh, and I also have about 50 copies of Bad Baby under my desk right now. I ordered them for a reading I’m doing with Bushwick Sweethearts at Mellow Pages in Brooklyn on Saturday, May 9th and for the Poetry Festival in Cedarmere on Sunday, May 17th.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Buying more copies of my own chapbook.

Your chapbook wish:
I would love if a teenage poet from the Midwest, like I was once, read Bad Baby and was inspired to write a poem in response. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Brooklyn, New York
Book publicist and horseback riding instructor

Chapbook Bio:  Abigail Welhouse is the author of Bad Baby (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared in The ToastThe Morning News,The RumpusLyre LyreYes Poetry, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the City College of New York, sends Secret Poems at, and would like to talk to you on Twitter: @welhouse.

the chapbook interview: Lindsay Lusby on the mother-beast of a poem

Lindsay Lusby

Your work as an editor and poet gives you the opportunity to work with several different genres of publication—literary journal, anthology, broadside, letterpress—as well other venues of literary culture such as writer-residencies, salons, readings, and launches. What do you admire about the chapbook form as a genre and vessel for poems?

I don’t think there is anything else that does just what a chapbook does for presenting and shaping poems. When I began writing Imago, it was a huge experiment for me. It was the first time I ever attempted writing poems in a series, interconnected pieces that create and continue a lyric fairy-tale narrative. Although it’s almost impossible to sustain this over 40-60 poems, a length of 10-20 poems is just right—the Goldilocks quotient. These parameters also gave me the freedom to explore narrative possibilities in a way that I never had previously when my focus was on the smaller frame of the individual poem. Where one poem ended, I could pick up the lyric thread and continue to push it further. My chapbook experiment forced me to push past the mystery that I like to leave my poems suspended within. I had to find answers to the poetic questions I posed. The interconnectedness of these poems also made them very dependent upon each other for meaning and context, which meant that they lost some of their potency if presented as individual poems (say in a literary journal or anthology). This could be considered a weakness in the poems, but gathered together in their intended sequence in a chapbook, they seem to form one bigger and stronger poem. That’s what I think the chapbook does best, when it works: assembles a group of poems into one larger mother-beast of a poem.


Imago (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) is your first chapbook. What did you learn in the writing classes and workshops you took in college about the chapbook as a genre? Talk about your classroom experiences that informed your thinking about the chapbook.

Of all the creative writing workshops and classes I took as an undergrad, I don’t really recall much mention of chapbooks, sadly. There was plenty of focus on how individual poems work (and don’t work) and on analyzing full-length collections, but no chaps. My introduction to chapbooks actually came through the letterpress printing and bookbinding workshops I took during that time. So I learned about the history of chapbooks as folk art, as object. Their intersection with the publication of contemporary poetry just served to draw me in further. Because of this introduction, I will always think of chapbooks as both physical artifact/art object and vehicle for poetry.


Your chapbook Imago is a coming-of-age story of fairy tale and myth. What are the strategies you admire of other contemporary writers who do similar work in the genre? Talk about your interest in retellings.

My two favorite retellers of fairy tales and myth are Angela Carter and Kate Bernheimer. They completely embrace the inherent weirdness of fairy tales, and then they amplify that weirdness. Carter takes it to the carnivalesque and Bernheimer to dark and visceral whimsy—both nurture the tales’ grotesqueries. I think I favor Bernheimer’s approach more in my own writing; although in my reading, I love both equally. In her fabulous and insightful essay in The Volta, Kate Bernheimer called all of this the “fairy way of writing,” after Dryden. She articulates so many of the qualities of fairy tale that were previously inexplicable to me: everyday magic, intuitive logic, flatness, abstraction. These are the things that make fairy tales and myth such fun to play with and rearrange.

Link to Bernheimer essay:


Writers and poets often talk about advocating for their work, promoting their work, and supporting the work of other writers by giving back, thereby creating a community where literary endeavors of small presses and the writers they publish is celebrated, discussed, and read. What strategies of advocacy and promotion do you think are most helpful for the chapbook?

I think this will always be a difficult area because the audience for chapbooks is even smaller than the audience for poetry in general. But I think the presses themselves have a great way of forming an instant sisterhood among the poets they publish, even if they haven’t met before. There’s a certain something about our writing that makes it Dancing Girl Press material, so we’re already more likely to have a natural affinity for each other’s work. And because of that, our audiences also naturally overlap a bit and every DGP poet I’ve met online or in person has been so generous about supporting my chapbook and the chaps of other DGPers, even sharing their own spotlight. I mean we are each other’s audience! It’s a connection that feels much more familial than it does competitive, so our instinct is to cheer on each other’s successes because any DGP win feels like a victory for each of us individually, too. Maybe that’s just me? But I don’t think it is. I think reading and thoughtfully reviewing each other’s chapbooks is a great strategy. Because who knows and appreciates the art of chapbooks better than we do? We are the ones who can best explain to the uninitiated what is so important and beautiful about chapbooks. Holding collaborative events—readings and salons, especially events that bring in a second medium like music, visual art, etc.—is also a fantastic way to simultaneously support and celebrate each other’s work while presenting it to an audience of potential readers. The most successful and engaging events I’ve held or attended feature a meeting of connected but separate arts media. For celebrating chapbooks, what about an event that is both a reading from chapbook poets and a demonstration of bookbinding or printing techniques? I would love to attend that!


What chapbooks are inspiring you these days?  Try a Little Time Travel, by Natalie Lyalin (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010) is one of my all-time favorite chapbooks. It is perfect in its sense of play. Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, by Sally Rosen Kindred (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013) is also a fantastic chapbook discovery of a few months ago.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? I look for poems that need to be alone together. Those poems that really need to get a room because they’re making the other poems around them uncomfortable with how intimate they are with each other.


What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on building my first full-length poetry collection, which I’ve called Catechesis. I’m also working on a collaborative chapbook with my poet-friend Emma Sovich, called Women’s Work. We’re both letterpress printers (she’s actually just completed her Book Arts MFA at the University of Alabama!) and proud feminists. For such an industrial art, the letterpress printing renaissance that we’re living right now is also largely populated by women (you can check out this awesome group called the Ladies of Letterpress here: And all of these awesome women in the print shop has us feeling like the proper granddaughters of Rosie the Riveter—at home amid the smells of lead type and rubber-based ink, working to the hum of the motorized proof or platen press. Our collaborative chapbook will attempt to use the cast-iron imagery of the print shop to create a contrast with the traditional notion of softer, domestic tasks as “women’s work.” Emma and I hope that, in the end, the fifteen to twenty poems we write for this chapbook manage to construct a kind of printers’ feminist manifesto (or even a feminists’ printing manifesto).


Current chapbook reading list: I picked up a stack of new chapbooks at AWP Minneapolis that I’m excited to begin: The Greenhouse, by Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet (Bull City Press, 2014); Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike, by Emilia Phillips (Bull City Press, 2015); No Girls No Telephones, by Brittany Cavallaro & Rebecca Hazelton (Black Lawrence Press, 2014); Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens, by Ross Gay & Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014); and Should Our Own Undoing Come Down Upon Us White, by Jill Osier (Bull City Press, 2013).

Number of chapbooks you own: 35 (I think!). At least, those are the ones I can find right now.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: 21 (that I can remember right now!). I still have a good amount in my stack to get to reading.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: The little I make from my chapbook goes toward the lofty goal of helping to pay down my credit card balance, which is primarily a healthy mountain of vet bills for my dog and two cats.

Residence: Chestertown, Maryland

Job: Assistant Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College