The gorgeous library at Poets House closed until further notice on March 14 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of poetic beauty to discover online at the Poets House website, where some rare chapbooks have gotten the digital treatment.
Chapbooks have traditionally been a kind-of long pamphlet that could contain all kinds of content. In the early ‘60s, as small presses began to proliferate across the U.S., the chapbook became associated with poetry publishing as a compact way to offer the latest verse from contemporary poets, whether Beat, formalist or avant-garde.
The other beautiful thing about small-run, independent chapbooks is the care and attention put into the little books, as you can see:
Contrary to larger commercial publications, the chapbooks from this golden period of small publishing — which lasted until the mid-1980s and is known as the Mimeo Revolution — often contain color illustrations and letterpressed lines.
The content of poetry from this period also often addressed social unrest, the ongoing Vietnam War and many other complexities of the time. So, as you’re biding time at home, these digitized beauties are a perfect way to pause and reacquaint yourself with the power of language in expressing and capturing historic moments.
Take, for instance, Yevgeny Yevtushenko in “Flowers and Bullets & Freedom to Kill” (City Lights Books, 1970): “Give no flowers to a state / that outlaws truth.” And Diane di Prima in “Loba, Part 1” (Capra Press, 1973): “I am you / and I must become you / I have been you / and I must become you / I am always you / and I must become you.”
Poets House is exploring having online workshops. Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks.