What is a Poetry Pamphlet or Chapbook?

A rare thing happened yesterday. I’d spent the afternoon writing, and then doing the obligatory cleaning to make my house look less like a pigsty. Between chores and our evening meal I had a spare hour, and I sat in our old rocking chair by the glass doors to the garden and pondered what I should do. After entertaining a clumsy maine coon with a feather teaser for a bit, I picked up a random poetry pamphlet from my expanding collection and start to read.

If you’ve not yet owned a poetry pamphlet or chapbook (how could you! I suggest you start with Bone Ovation…) this is a small book of poetry by a single author. Usually containing between 20 and 30 poems, a chapbook is seen as the first collection of an emerging author. A full collection of around 40 – 60 poems follows afterwards. Working with a publisher on your first chapbook is an incredibly exciting experience, one I documented in my blog post about what happens during the production of a chapbook. The style and quality of chapbooks and pamphlets published varies widely according to the publisher. Many have an in-house style, and all of their published poetry pamphlets match their branding, and others produce their pamphlets in an identical process to full length collections and novels, with their own cover design and tactile spine. Some independent publishers will print a certain number of pamphlets (perhaps 200 or so) and then order further batches in future, while other publishers will print a set number of pamphlets and promote them as limited editions. You can usually find out this information on the submissions page of the publisher you’re sending your manuscript to.

Some poetry pamphlets and chapbooks might be a collaboration between poets, or the print copy of a side-project from an established poet. The main characteristic of pamphlets is the length, and that it is not an anthology. Browse the collections of independent publishers and you’ll find a glorious rainbow of chapbooks and pamphlets exploring everything from longing and loss to science fiction and fantasy. Many pamphlets are personal projects dissecting personal experiences or family history, and some are purely creative storytelling. If you’re in the UK and are looking for a place to start, why not my own publisher, Valley Press?

Handmade Poetry Pamphlets – Spotlight on Hyacinth Girl Press

I wanted to highlight the publisher of the pamphlet I read last night, as it’s an example of a unique approach to pamphlet publishing. Hyacinth Girl Press is based in in the US, and publishes around 6 new pamphlets a year. They ship all over the world, and I own around 6 of them. Hyacinth Girl Press describe themselves as:

‘Hyacinth Girl Press is a micro-press that publishes up to 6 poetry chapbooks each year. We specialize in handmade books of smaller press runs. We consider ourselves a feminist press and are particularly interested in manuscripts dealing with topics such as radical spiritual experiences, creation/interpretation of myth through a feminist lens, and science. We think outerspace, in particular, is pretty darn cool.’
What could be better? Explore Hyacinth Girl Press’ pamphlets page and your eyes will boggle at the beautiful covers – all radically different from each other. Each of these pamphlets are handmade, stitched by hand and finished with a beautiful co-ordinating ribbon.

Travelling Mack Hyacinth Girl Press

The First page is a sheet of art paper to match the cover – and I love how it’s visible when the book is closed. It has the feeling of a book inside a book, already gift wrapped.

Beautiful inside page from Travelling Mack, Hyacinth Girl Press

What initially drew me to Hyacinth Girl Press’s pamphlets were the titles and covers. I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we do, don’t we? Some of HGP’s covers flip the expected nature of poetry on its head, and would be great as gifts or presents to introduce someone to poetry.

Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm Hyacinth Girl Press

‘In the Kingdom of my Familiar’ by Julie Pratt is the poetry pamphlet I dipped into last night. I’d read it before, but this time it resonated with me much more than it did previously. Maybe I was in a hurry last time? I’ve definitely learnt that I simply can’t read poetry if I’m feeling stressed or short of time, it just doesn’t work. If you’re about to embark on your first read of a pamphlet (or poetry at all!) try reading it slowly, and out loud, under your breath. Yes, you’ll look like you’re crazy, but who cares. You’re reading a book of science-fiction-alien-autopsy-poetry. You’re obviously mad already. 😉

What is a poetry pamphlet In the Kingdom of my Familiar Julie Pratt Hyacinth Girl Press

Here’s a sneak peek of one of the poems inside. I picked this one totally at random – every poem in the pamphlet is stunning.

What is a poetry pamphlet In the Kingdom of my Familiar Julie Pratt

So what is a poetry pamphlet? Aside from the fact it’s a small collection of poetry from an emerging or established poet, it’s a little world unique to the poet, and unique to the poetry publisher. Frankly the more unique or boundary-pushing the pamphlet is, the better is can be! You can read a few sample poems from my own poetry chapbook over on the Valley Press website.

But now you might ask – so what happens during the production of a poetry chapbook? You can read all about what happened during the production of Bone Ovation here.

Ready to try your hand at assembling your own poetry collection or chapbook? Take a look at my absolute favourite free resources and tools for writers. It’s the best place to start for a writing prompt or some inspiration!

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