What is a Chapbook?

What is a chapbook, and where have I been? More on the latter in a minute. First off, the chapbook bit. These days, more people seem to know the answer to this question, but not too long ago — when I told people I was working on such a thing (and they weren’t exactly a “book person”) — they’d look at me with an upside down head and ask, “What is a chapbook??”

I used to just give them a textbook definition of the word so I wouldn’t be telling them something incorrect. It is, historically, “a small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by peddlers.” I suppose the definition hasn’t really changed since then. They are still sold by “peddlers.” Since the 60s, they’ve been more like DIY booklets of poetry, stories, and/or prose, essays, etc., and many times they’re accompanied with artwork. They’ve often been confused with zines, which are a bit different but within the same flavor. Nowadays, chapbooks have a nice covers, perhaps even letterpressed. Take the last one I did, which was a long while ago, Today’s Quandary.. Bill Roberts from Bottle of Smoke Press did the covers for me in letterpress. More and more people are making the handmade “hip” again. Again, I’ll just blend in like the rest of the herd, like when Nirvana got big.

As you can see, the indention is super lucious.

Chapbooks have been around forever. They are nothing new at all. A little bit of background I found to be required reading about the history of the chapbook, can be viewed here. And here’s another for even more info, and if you want to see a picture of some chapbooks to go with your reading materials.

The above images of Today’s Quandary are fucking fancy compared to what I used to make in the 90s. I am actually putting this post up, because, for a while now, I’ve been meaning to show the covers of my old chapbooks. They were all in limited editions of 40, so there were never very many of them. And I foolishly didn’t keep one copy of any of them for myself. Not one! I’m so mad, I could scream. I mean, I’m not that mad. I’m just disappointed. All I have are the masters. Meaning, I have all the thick pages of cut-out text glued together from which I made the copies. All the color copies that went inside them, however, have fallen off. The text is still stuck to the pages though, which is almost too bad, because the poetry is so awful, I can’t help but cringe! Looking back now, I see a very angry young person full of rage about society and the injustices in the world. I was screaming in those poems. Well, maybe not in the first book (Angelic Hell Stories of Torment and the Like), where all I did was whine. Those are sad and depressing heartbreak poems, mostly about a guy I couldn’t get over for years.

It says “cut & paste” version, because it was an originally an 8.5 x 11 inch book. If you’ve ever seen those X-Ray books, it was a lot like those, or at least it was going to be. I made only one, and was planning to make 100 like X-Ray does/did, but then I got the idea to do affordable chapbooks instead, and make them only slightly handmade. All my chapbooks had mostly poems, a short story or two, and lots of color copies of paintings that sometimes went with a poem or a story, or sometimes didn’t, but almost every page had them pasted in there. I had to print them separately, cut them up, and stick them in because it was cheaper that way. More time consuming, of course. Cost was a bigger deal to me then, and after midnight, the 24-hour Kinkos near my apartment would have $.05 copies, and $.45 color copies. I’d stay there all night putting those things together.

Here’s a shorty poem from that book:

Angels Stick
like hot smelly tar
not too far from La Brea
He’s into pinball,
bleeds like a shuckster,
but he’s aimless
almost
without essence.
I could
cry all day
hoping you’d fade,
because i don’t love you;
I’m just playing with halos
hula-hoops
pierce through me
like the fire from a blow torch.

Here are the covers for the next two books that came after, in 1993 and 1994. Daily Deaths & Gumballs and Junkslacker:

I can’t get over the above picture either! Yes, that is me.

Here’s another poem from one of these, Junkslacker I think. It will be the last I post from these, since I’m totally embarrassing myself.

inside
invisible
dome of frozen smiles
black cape
blankets
who I really am
protects you
from me,
from all the clawing
scraping,
loving, killing
you’ll never know
I’m capable of

I wear these shoes like jesus
and nowhere
hide myself from stiff faces unmoving
watch the vapor lift off your skin
like steam from the underground
All you accept, and all you feel
trickles off your brain like
left over
drips of acid
and now, it’s me
who is everything

I own the bullet
God’s grace, and
the never sleeping evil
Don’t fuck with me, devil,
you will burn harder,
hard-on head
bite it off & bleed
My love is water soluble

I revel
isolation,
okay? Okay
I’m okay,
I’ll be at 7-11
flaunting rage’s ebb
chewin’ on a starburst
suckin’ down on venom
being
in this little body
while cars crash

Yeah, yeah, enough applause, please. Oy, how awful. At least I can laugh at it. in my youth, I probably thought it was good.

An interesting tidbit about that picture on the Daily Deaths & Gumballs cover, as you might notice, I’m wearing a t-shirt that says, “Mighty Joe Young” on it. Back in my band days, my band was friends with this band. We used to practice at the same rehearsal spot in North Hollywood called, “Bill’s Place,” and we’d go to each other’s shows. After a couple years of knowing them, they got a deal with Atlantic Records and later emerged as Stone Temple Pilots. They continued to practice at Bill’s Place, but as you can guess, they blew up so big, it wasn’t easy to maintain friendships that required anything too time-consuming. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there. And then, they were on their umpteenth tour, drugs ruled Scott’s life, and etcetra.

Anyway, this chapbook was put out in 1998. Duh!

And there was one more called Bulletproof, but I don’t like the cover of that one, or the poems. I put some of the poems I used in the earlier chapbooks and I shouldn’t have done did that. This was the painting I used for that cover, only I stretched it out across the page. I don’t like the look of it now.

Sometimes I think about making more little chapbooks. Maybe they won’t ever be $7-$16 again, but $46 for Today’s Quandary isn’t so awful for what it is. Not at all. Once I finish selling the rest of those off, I’ll look into making something else.

If you want to know what’s going on with my Book-book, you can always visit the Shrapnel site.

Now, where have I been? Well, I haven’t been making art, that’s for sure. Sorry to report. I’m apologizing to myself there, more than anyone else. I have a whole entire series of watercolors completely planned out in my head. Everything about them are drafted in my brains. I just need to paint them. The smaller ones (I think) won’t take long, but, ah — I think wrong, I think. The smaller watercolors take just as long because details are details. All I know is that I haven’t been working on this:

I drew that out months ago. I have to get on it.

Instead, I’ve been working on writing stuff, i.e.: a new book proposal, a query letter, a writer’s bio. I’m researching new agencies, publishers I can directly submit to, independents that have good distibution, and blah blah blah, right?

And still, I am not getting enough sleep. This last year I have not been sleeping well. It’s awful. I just sleepwalk through life. It takes me forever to do everything. I’ve fallen asleep countless times since I started the draft of this post, and it’s expired on me twice. Right now, I’m going to take a nap before I come back and proof it. All because I keep nodding off.

Now I’m back, I had a long nap, had dinner and I am falling asleep again. At least I gave it a little look over. It’s good enough (I think).

Okay. See you on the flibbidyflop.

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