This is a post I wrote for my old blog around the time I released my first poetry chapbook Toronto The Good back in 2013. You can download the e-book version for free, along with my other e-book short story collections by clicking here.
I’d never heard of a poetry chapbook until the day spoken word artist and R.I.S.E. Poetry founder Randell Adjei stood up at the weekly Scarborough open mic and held up a chapbook containing poems written by several artists and poets that had performed at R.I.S.E.
“I like the Chapter book medium as a reader because it helps to see someone’s thoughts on paper,” Randell says. “Performance art is amazing in itself, but reading it enables a reader to briefly see the creative process. It's another form of creative entertainment.”
It was certainly a different look for R.I.S.E., a movement that has brought spoken word artists, singers, hip-hop artists and performers of all kinds together since 2012 to create a safe, positive space (I called them one of my favourite movements of 2012 in a previous blog).
One of young people whose poetry was featured in R.I.S.E.’s chapbook is poet and spoken word artist David Delisca, who released his own chapbook I Grew Up Right Beside You through Truth Be Told Publishing in early 2013. He calls the chapbook medium “cooler than a polar bear’s toenails,” because it allows the artist to understand the process of creating and publishing a project quickly without a big economic risk. For the reader, he says, “it's a great memorabilia of intimate work and very exclusive,” considering poets who publish chapbooks usually print only a couple hundred copies. David’s goal was to sell 400 and says he’s sold around 370 copies of …Right Beside You since its February release.
But what is the purpose of releasing a chapbook? And what is the goal?
I think every poet may answer that question differently. I bought award-winning Detroit slam poet Deonte Osayande’s chapbook “Separation” when he visited Toronto and wowed the R.I.S.E. faithful. That specific chapbook was published by organizers of an event he headlined to commemorate his performance. Deonte has had another chapbook published by his alma mater, the University of Detroit-Mercy, for winning the school’s poetry award.
But he has also published three chapbooks on his own, Quills of Fire, Metamorphosis, and Duality Unabridged and says at first he just wanted to tell his story. “I wasn't ready for a full text,” he writes via e-mail, “but I felt I still had something valuable to say.”
So is that the eventual goal, to publish a book? A full collection of poetry? Deonte says that back home in Detroit, full texts are often put out prematurely. “It takes time for writers to develop and grow,” he says, ‘and chapbooks can help with that,” maybe in the same way a recording artist or an author would start with a mixtape, EP or short story collection before diving into full-length album or novel.
David Delisca agrees, saying of his chapbook, “I wanted to see how people would respond… to gauge if my work is worthy of a bigger press.” David liked the response he got and plans to work on bigger literary projects in the near future.
Now does a chapbook have to start and end as a printed booklet? No. As with any creative medium there is plenty of room for innovation. Randell likes the idea of releasing an audio version to accompany the next chapbook R.I.S.E. publishes and David, also a spoken word artist and veteran slam poet, turned …Right Beside You into a live music and poetry show with a full band at legendary Queen West performance venue Drake Underground, reaping publicity on popular Toronto websites like BlogTO and Toronto.com. There doesn’t appear to be any limits on what a chapbook can be and what purpose it can serve.