Busy Bibliophile? Try a Poetry Chapbook!

ModWriters Esmé, Laura Beth, and Angela reading poetry chapbooks from Dancing Girl Press.

As a word-loving lady, I long to spend hours reading while curled in my favorite chair or lounging in a bubble bath. The reality is that my jam-packed schedule makes it hard to find time to unwind and enjoy a good book. If your calendar also makes it tough to squeeze in a chapter of prose, try turning the pages of a poetry chapbook!

What is a chapbook, exactly? Chapbooks are small booklets consisting of 10-40 folded saddle-stitched pages. Dating as far back as the 17th century, chapbooks were popularized by traveling merchants, or “chap-men,” hawking their inexpensive, handmade text collections on topics ranging from political manifestos to song lyrics.

Nowadays, indie lit presses produce chapbooks of all genres, but poetry remains the reader favorite, in part because the modest size easily embodies poems on one theme or subject. Lightweight, and just as portable as an e-book reader, poetry chaps make it easy to squeeze in a few stanzas while you ride the bus or stand in line for a latte.

poetry chapbooks
An assortment of chapbooks from Birds of Lace, Blood Pudding, and Dancing Girl Press.

Many indie presses publish handmade books boasting pretty paper and embellishments such as ribbons, lace, stitching, and fabric. Handcrafted flourishes make chaps fun to hold and add a delightfully tactile dimension to your poetry reading experience. Gina Abelkop, editor of the Bay Area feminist press Birds of Lace, incorporates materials that work hand in hand with the poems themselves. “[I want] to make the outsides match the insides, like designing an outfit for the text,” says Gina.

Not sure where to begin? Might I recommend a few of my favorite presses, including the aforementioned Birds of Lace? Chicago-based Dancing Girl Press promotes the work of female poets with a wide selection of limited-edition, handcrafted chaps. If you’re a horror fan, browse the macabre selection of eerie chapbooks from Ohio-born Blood Pudding Press. And if you’re already a chapbook fanatic, share your favorite poets and presses in the comments!

Happy reading!

— By freelance fashion writer Laura Beth Davis 


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  1. Avatar
    Christen (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 10:45 am #

    Look at you ladies! Gorgeous! And I also love chapbooks, Laura, thanks for the recommendations! 🙂

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    Laura (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 10:59 am #

    Laura Beth, you’re really getting me in the mood to read under some snuggly covers! Sleepy eyes aside, I received a pretty amazing chapbook for Christmas called The Glossary of Tania Aebi written by Carolyn Whelan and published by Finishing Line Press. I read it in twenty minutes while the rest of my family unwrapped presents. Needless to say, I recommend it!

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 11:05 am #

      Finishing Line is another amazing indie press with lovely chapbooks. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura! Speaking of people named Laura – I just got Laura Madeline Wisemen’s new book, Branding Girls by FLP – so far, it’s incredible. Definitely add it to your reading list!

  3. Avatar
    carrie 01/12/2012 at 11:03 am #

    some other cool presses:




    so excited to see chapbooks being featured here, especially awesome presses like birds of lace and dancing girl press.

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 11:12 am #

      Thanks Carrie! Any favorite titles? these are all awesome presses with varying aesthetics.

  4. Avatar
    D. 01/12/2012 at 11:21 am #

    What a lovely picture! And the history of the chapbook is certainly fascinating. Carrie, I LOVE Bateau’s chaps. They’re beautiful, elegant, and always really nice collections. I’ll add in Seven Kitchens Press, http://sevenkitchenspress.com/, which is doing a lot of cool work.

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    athenapappas 01/12/2012 at 11:33 am #

    Love that pic! Maybe we can start a Chapbook movement, I’ve been writing in my blog about them too…. athenapappas.wordpress.com

  6. Avatar
    Nicole 01/12/2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Thanks for writing about these presses—they deserve the support!

    Some other great chapbook makers out there, if anyone’s interested:

    Belladonna* (http://belladonnaseries.org/)

    Spooky Girlfriend Press (http://spooky-girlfriend.blogspot.com/)

    Lame House Press (http://lamehouse.blogspot.com/)

  7. Avatar
    Rachel 01/12/2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Everybody should check out my friend Nicole Steinberg’s chapbook because not only is she awesome but she’s also super stylish.


  8. Avatar
    Mary Stone Dockery 01/12/2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Some recent chaps I have read and loved:
    Andalucia (Brothel Books) by Lisa Marie Basile – lovely stuff. It’s one of the sexiest chapbooks I have ever read. It’s about the ocean and femininity and movement and love. It’s erotic, yet it whispers. I really recommend this book!

    Carry Catastrophe (grey book press 2010) by Megan Kaminski
    A strange and surreal chap – a focus on language. Fun.

    The Chainsaw Bears (Dancing Girl Press) by Erin Elizabeth Smith
    One of the most fun chapbooks I’ve ever read. Very cohesive. It becomes more than you think is possible as you read it, more than just funny. It’s quite deep, enlightening.

    Elective Affinities (Dancing Girl Press) by Kara Dorris
    She is also the editor of Lingerpost. This is a chapbook that rewrites fairy tales for you – makes them real and gritty. I love this book. It is one of my go-to chaps for inspiration.

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 3:51 pm #

      Mary! I love your recommendations here (Ms. Basile is one of my favorite poets!) so thank you for this. The reviews/descriptions are helpful. Sometimes I have trouble deciding what to buy, but getting a poet’s name from a friend is a good place to begin. Thanks also for more press suggestions!

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    carrie 01/12/2012 at 5:08 pm #

    yay! kara was in my MFA program, so happy to see her getting a shoutout here!

  10. Avatar
    Lee 01/12/2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Ahh, I love this post, as I’ve never been quite sure exactly what chapbooks were, or where to find them. Definitely checking out the presses you mentioned!

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/12/2012 at 6:00 pm #

      This makes me so happy, Lee! I found that a lot of people have heard of chapbooks, but aren’t really sure where to get them or find them. If you have a local indie bookstore, they might have a section as well.

  11. Avatar
    Mary Stone Dockery 01/15/2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Another good one I just got in the mail and am already in love with:
    “Insomnia” by Kristine Ong Muslim – a lovely writer. by Medulla Publishing. This book is strange and lovely. It’s some really great writing!

  12. Avatar
    Mary Stone Dockery 01/15/2012 at 4:26 pm #

    OH and more – don’t forget about Caketrain as a small press that publishes amazing chapbooks. These chaps tend to be much longer than your average chap – more like a full-length book to me. BUT “Cure All” by Kim Parko is one of my very favorite books I’ve read in a long time. So great!

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/16/2012 at 11:26 am #

      You are so right. Caketrain has a beautiful chapbook series and their aesthetic is like no other. Thanks for mentioning them!

  13. Avatar
    unpetitfauve 01/16/2012 at 10:24 am #

    I love poetry chapbooks! I self-published one a few years ago and I still have a couple of copies left. It was a great way to get my poetry out there, and the whole process really helped me understand more about self-publishing, which prepared me for putting together my full-length poetry book manuscript (to be printed soon)!

    My upcoming poetry book is going to be a little bit longer than a chapbook, but I still love the process of putting together a chap (especially when I get to sew the binding myself).

    It made me very happy to see that poetry chapbooks were being discussed on Modcloth! Along with broadsides, chapbooks are one of my favorite ways of reading poetry.

    • Avatar
      Laura Beth (ModCloth) 01/16/2012 at 11:25 am #

      I also love broadsides and postcard poems too – tiny stamp-sized or bookmark poems! Poems are small and easy to put out there in alternative formats that make them even more fun to read. I’m glad to see chapbooks have such a solid fan-base still. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Avatar
    Lisa marie Basile 02/09/2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Wow! This is a wonderful post. Thanks Modcloth, and Laure, and Mary, for your lovely words. This is a great post. I love chapbooks and pretty things and can’t wait to read some of these books here.

    also, what a great pic!

  15. Avatar
    Lisa marie Basile 02/09/2012 at 9:22 pm #

    Love also Dancing Girl Press! Such a wonderful array of beautiful-to-read-and-hold consistent books!

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