National Chapbook Competition

WHAT is a Chapbook?

WHY publish a Chapbook?

Pecan Grove Press

The Pecan Grove Press National Chapbook Competition has not been conducted for the past four years while the press has been extricating itself from a a massive backlog caused by the editor's wanting to print too many of the wonderful manuscripts submitted and, simultaneously, recovering from a series of unfortunate hospitalizations.



I confess that I love chapbooks.  These short (the National Endowment for the Arts considers a chapbook as any book with fewer than 48 pages) collections of poetry or prose afford a writer the opportunity to write a series of poems that are tightly interrelated by subject, by metaphor, by any means the writer can use.

Some chapbooks become deservedly famous:  T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems and Allen Ginsberg's Howl are just two examples.  Some very fine poets realize that they can explore a theme in a more liberated manner by focusing on chapbook length than by cobbling together longer, less focused books with section dividers.

Unfortunately, we have come to see chapbooks as somehow less than "real" books.  We see them, for the most parts, as steps on the way toward building our BIG books.  There is, though, a distinct joy to sitting down with a fine chapbook and reading it at one sitting, allowing the poems to work together, informing each other.  Poe recognized the value of this sort of thing when he wrote "The Philosophy of Composition."

When, as a publisher, I receive a really good short manuscript (24 - 36 or so pages) and sit down with it, I can lose myself in what the poet has to say.  It's like walking into a truly fine one-person art exhibit where the artist shows her most recent work and you see how each piece of art informs the next and each piece becomes something more because of the context in which it finds itself.

Take, just for example, Particia Fargnoli's Small Songs of Pain, a collection of poems all based upon the gouache's Marc Chagall painted as a response to the fables of LaFontaine.  I read each poem with delight, then, curious, pulled down a collection of Marc Chagall's paintings and of LaFontaine's fables (I work in a library)and then I re-read the poems.  The poems were complete and sufficient without the books of paintings and fables but were delightful when read in the greater context.  I had the same experience recently with a small collection of poems we're publishing by Linda Kittell, The Helga Pictures, a collection of poems based upon paintings by Andrew Wyeth but going much beyond those paintings to become a conversation among the poet, Helga and Wyeth. 

I don't want to give the impression that PGP only looks for fine chapbooks that are ekphrastic or are about artists or writers (see John Gilgun's Moby Dick Poems or Janet McCann's Emily's Dress).  But also read Vince Gotera's superb Fighting Kite, a chapbook that reconnects him with his father or Jill Alexander Essbaum's exceptional collection of spiritual/passionate sonnets, Oh Forbidden.  The chapbook length is perfect for all of these books and for other wonderful chapbooks I have read by other publishers.

I hope more exceptionally fine poets will explore chapbooks because by looking at chapbooks they will give themselves the opportunity to explore a particular thing, a theme, a metaphor more deeply that can be done in a single poem or in a sprawling book and that will give their readers a small enough space to connect with the poetry.

--H. Palmer Hall (editor, Pecan Grove Press), San Antonio, Texas, 2008

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November 11, 2003

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