little chaps

C and I were talking about chapbooks the other day, about how bookstore owners are reluctant to stock them. Because chapbooks are a hard sell. For the buying public, they live in some kind of strange, in-between space -- not something just printed off at home, but not quite a proper 'book' either. People don't react well to strange, in-between things. People are conditioned to want their books processed. Packaged. Perfect-bound. As if the mechanized is its own kind of stamp. As if legitimacy depended on plastic laminate. (This is why chapbooks often go in the other direction, with hand-stitching and special papers, to reach for another kind of domain.)

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Yet here I sit with a whole handful of chapbooks that make me think of new candy. Clean, bright, inviting. And I know they've been 'processed' just as much as any book -- labours of care, and imagination, often done over extended lengths of time (just try it yourself, to write a poem in a hurry). And then edited and published by a third party.

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One of the chapbooks in this small stash is called Shikibu Shuffle, by Andrew Burke and Phil Hall. Burke has published many books, including nine collections of poetry, while Hall is the 2011 winner of the Governor General's Award for Poetry.

Shikibu Shuffle is poetry stripped down. Stripped bare. And while there's plenty of physicality and music here, the sustaining effect comes from the total, from the whole body, and individual poems feel more like single notes -- played into the open air. And then grey, smoke-infused ones at that
nothing I see or think
means anything to me
and later
sun holds motes float
The playground here (and there is some sense of that, of soft-pedaled playing) is the kind you walk over in the rain. And this kind of resigned humour, where
God must be a boogie man
would probably go best, I think, with coffee and piling clouds and the feeling of having escaped something.

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I'll pulling more out of this cache from above/ground press in the weeks ahead.


  1. I was just reading about this...

  2. I think chap books are like little bits of art. I would think highly accessible to the public..but they like what they like. Kind of like mail art..which I love too. Little bits of seemingly randomness that is eye candy...

  3. Thanks, man, for that chirpy mention.Shikibu Shuffle needs more readers like you who are open to the turns of tune in it. And Phil's creative hand in the production certainly made it an attractive li'l book!


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