Until very recently, I had no idea what a chapbook was. I’ll own up to my ignorance. Over the years at various readings, I would hear an author tell another author, “hey, I have a new chapbook out.” And it was always authors talking quietly among themselves. It all sounded very mysterious, top-secret-literary-inside-baseball-I’d-tell-ya-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you type stuff. I never saw anyone hold something up and say, “Here’s my new chapbook, you should buy it.” Maybe I just go to readings by shy authors.
My path to enlightenment came when friend of the blog, Chicago author Ben Tanzer announced on his blog that he had a new chapbook out and discerning readers should pick one up. I had no idea what I was ordering, but it was $3 and I am a fan on Ben’s work, so how wrong could I go in picking one up? Was it even possible?
The Tanz-Man’s (as we’ve never called him) chapbook I Am Richard Simmons arrived from Mud Lucious Press in a discrete plain brown wrapper with another, unordered, chapbook. Was it a complimentary freebie? Did they make a terrible mistake? We may never know. The chapbooks were small (see guitar pick for reference) – perfect for tucking into a shirt pocket for later. They chapbooks were also clearly handmade and bore the rubber stamp of the press’s colophon on the cover.
Inside, I Am Richard Simmons uses a minimalist layout with tasteful font choices. That Tanzer is a classy fellow.
Nothing left to do but read. And what is I Am Richard Simmons exactly? It’s not a short story, and it’s not poem. It reads almost like a meditation, or maybe a prose poem – a reflection perhaps – on the existential idea of Richard Simmons-ness. Who is Richard Simmons? Why is he like that? What is his deal anyway? Tanzer shows us that these are merely rhetorical questions:
…you know who, & what Richard Simmons really is; Richard Simmons is you.
So what have we learned? Chapbooks are the punk-rock-7″-singles-that-are-pressed-in-that-one-dude’s-basement-and-passed-around-from-friend-to-friend of the literary world. Chapbooks reflect the DIY ethos of people creating for the love and not for the money. (Where do I buy my Corporate Literature Sucks t-shirt?) Chapbooks are bad ass. But then you knew that already. I was the one who didn’t know what was going on.
Now that I am actually aware of what a chapbook is, they are everywhere. A few weeks ago Shaft wrote about Chris Cessac’s Eros Among the North Americans. I found out that Jamie Iredell’s Prose. Poems. A Novel. started out as three chapbooks! (More on that one soon.) And in my package, a second chapbook – free! – Michael Martone’s Thucydides at Syracuse. Also worth your time. It was all right there in front of me the whole time. And about five minutes after reading I Am Richard Simmons, I was convinced that there needs to be a BGB Press. Why not? Nothing stopping us. (Besides the usual…TIME)
Because I am nothing if not super timely, Mud Lucious is now all sold out of I Am Richard Simmons. From what I understand, the last two copies IN THE WORLD are available from Powell’s. Still $3.