chapbook poetry reading

Allie Shyer on DIY chapbooks, communities, and zines

At Bard College, you earned a BA studying written arts. You are also the author of the chapbook Notes on Young that features poems written and published on Instagram, a chapbook that begins with the note, “Notes on Young is an exploration of poetry in digital space, existing as a part of daily life and communication in the digital realm, and also as an interruption to the ways we engage with social media.” Talk about your experiences as a student of the chapbook, both in and outside of the classroom. In your answer, talk about the digital and print realm of the chapbook form.

As a student at Bard College, I did as much reading as I did writing. I was lucky to be in a program that allowed me to fall in love with literature, and gave me the freedom from there to create my own work in the form of a creative thesis. I feel that chapbooks were something I learned about outside of school. As a part of the queer and D.I.Y. communities, zines have been a part of my life for a long time. I like the form of zines because they can be cobbled together from anything you have. Xeroxed pages and handwritten with homemade bindings, they are a really unique and lasting way to distribute ideas. I have been working with the art collective 3rd-Language for about three and a half years now. We started out making zines but as the production value got higher we started to call them publications. Something that is unique about chapbooks is that they can exist anywhere on that spectrum and still be chapbooks, and I think that’s important. 3rd-Language produces physical publications, but also has a free archive of all of our work on Issuu that anyone with access to a computer can read. I feel that my chapbook is unique because unlike many publications it is meant to be read digitally as well as in print. By publishing the poems on Instagram and then collecting them into a book I had a platform to get people excited about the project, and to present poetry in a context in which it is not normally seen. It was important to me that they poems exist in a physical printed form as well.

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There’s something haunting and visceral about reading Notes on Young. The interplay of images and words, screenshots and colors add to the tension the chapbook creates. Poets & Writers features How-To articles and videos on binding chapbooks. Talk about making Notes on Young. Describe the physical processes you engaged in to create a chapbook that seeks to interrogate digital in print, while also having a digital version available.

Notes on Young went through a number of formatting processes to get to the finished product. All of the poems started out as notes on my Iphone, texts, or other bits of digital information that I then edited using different programs on my phone including Instagram and Instasize. I think the haunting nature of the notes can be attributed to the defamiliarizing of digital formats that we see daily. By altering tones, colors and other graphic elements of our daily digital landscape slightly, I aimed to create a feeling of uncanniness, and also speak to the extreme interiority of the digital spaces we inhabit. The cover art and graphic design elements were done by my friend Rhone Talsma, it was good to work with a close friend who really understood the tone of the project. I chose a saddle stitch binding because I wanted something simple and unobtrusive that I could easily put together myself. The process of making the book was really spending allot of time at Staples to be honest, finding spaces with paper cutters and adjustable staplers and color printers is not as easy as one would hope.

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In her essay “Celebrating the Chapbook: Postcards From New York City” in Poets & Writers, Jean Hartig speaks of the connection of design and content when she writes, “Because of the chapbook form’s diminutive nature, the relationship between their design and content is significant, and a beautifully designed little book is a thing treasured by author and reader.” Talk about your interest in art and design, words and poetry, and the conversation and connection art and words have in the chapbook. In your answer, also discuss the chapbooks that you find invigorating, provocative, and inspirational.

When I write poetry I always pay attention to shape. There is a shape when a poem is read aloud and a shape that a poem takes on the page. These are both really important to me. Notes on Young is a very visual project because the fragments are too small to exist on their own without some element of design,  I like the idea that they exist as pictures, digital objects and poems. In this way the element of design is structurally inseparable from what they are.

One chapbook I really like is Anne Carson’s The Albertine Workout, in which she culls information from Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time and re-examines it to create a new work that filters Albertine through a poetic, feminist and deconstructive lens. It blurs the line between scholarship and poetry and it presents the information in a way that is visually exciting. It is published in a little pamphlet edition by New Directions. I also have a zine that documents five years of someone’s life in facebook statuses. I’ve felt a lot of kinship with her.

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In Jeannine Hall Gailey’s essay “Why Publishing a Chapbook Makes Sense,” she discusses marketing a chapbook and the importance of giving readings. She writes, “Be an interesting, enthusiastic reader who has actually organized their work and practiced it a few times.” You read recently at the Woman Made Gallery event on transitions and read from your chapbook. Talk about the strategies you’ve explored to connect with the audience while giving readings.

I have a background in performance art as well as writing, so for me delivery is very important. Reading a poem is giving it a new way to exist. I think contrition and tension between language and meaning is built into the fiber of my work, primarily because it explores the tensions of being a woman; that is being a woman and being viewed by society as a woman, and those things can take a strain on sense and meaning. I think audiences, particularly in spaces like Woman Made Gallery, can sense that and relate to it when I read my poems out loud.

I often think of my poems also as spells or incantations, making the reading of them essential to their potency and their truth because saying something is a way of manifesting it. I prioritize concision, trying to convey a singular image or idea as potently as I can, so I often employ repetition which is a device that is even more effective when read to an audience. I have not yet done a reading of the poems contained in Notes On Young. I am doing my first one in about a month as a part of a show focusing on new media artists making work with smart phones. It will be an interesting challenge to read such short poems out loud, but I think with the help of a projector showing the poems in their visual form it will be an interesting experiment.

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How do you define chapbook? A little book with big poetic aspirations. 

What makes a good chapbook? Intriguing design, small size, powerful words. 

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Dan Hoy and Jon Leon’s joint effort Glory Hole and The Hot Tub. Both poets master the perfect balance between vulgarity and sincerity in this little book.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Eileen Myles is probably one of my greatest inspirations because of her concision and frankness.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? This was my first chapbook, but I tried to achieve compactness and clarity.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? Notes on Young was my first non-collaborative printed project, I have learned allot from the process and I am excited to continue to create chapbooks. 

What’s next for you? Continuing to write concise boundary pushing poetic work, collaborating with other queer artists and writers on projects, curating a show on cruelty that will take place in February and putting together a skill share for women and queers doing tech and new media based art.

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Current chapbook reading list: Dear Failures by Trey Sager on Ugly Duckling Press, The Tales by Jessica Bozek on Les Figues Press. 

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: Skill shares, exchanges, collaborations with artists across a variety of genres. 

Your chapbook credo: Compact! Concise! 

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Buying cappuccinos for my girlfriend. 

Your chapbook wish: For Notes on Young to be picked up by a publisher and widely distributed 😉 

Residence: Chicago, IL

Job: Writer, babysitter, jack of all trades.

Chapbook Bio: Allie Shyer is a writer and artist living in Chicago, IL. She recently graduated with a BA in written arts and has been featured on thewhalesings.com, Autostraddle.com, Artreport.com and Hooligan Magazine, as well as being a member of 3rd-Language art collective. 

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