Peng Du on absurdity and self-publishing chapbooks

Talk about the process of self-publishing. What steps did you complete to get your manuscript ready? 

I was going to release my book from a small press. They took my draft a few months ago and we lost connection after that, even they already told me they wanted to publish my book. But I did not want to wait because I am leaving this country at the beginning of next year right after I finish my master degree. My friend Ed recommended me to use Blurb for self-publishing and I did. My next chapbook, The Elephant’s Scale is coming soon and I created that book by using Lu Lu.

What kind of editing was required? How did you approach the design and formatting for the cover and layout? What promotion strategies have helped you get your chapbook into the hands of your readers?

Since English is not my first language, I wrote all my creative works in Chinese and I translated them into English. I got helps from my native speaker friends during the editing process. I am a fan of Canva and I made all my graph works from this site. I have created a Facebook page for Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide, that’s the only promotion strategy I have. I only printed 70 copies of my first chapbook and I almost sold out all of them. I do not have books for sale online and only bookstores are carrying my books are locally owned bookstores. There are three bookstores carrying my chapbook: Raven Bookstore from Lawrence, Kansans, Prospero’s Books from Kansas City, Missouri and Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore from Emporia, Kansas. I guess one of the reasons why my first chapbook sold well it just because of the title. A few years ago, I read a Chinese article from the Cultural Revolution and the title was “Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide.” That article was so absurd and it blew me out. That’s why I used it for my first chapbook.

As a graduate student working on a Master’s Degree at Emporia State University, how does required the research and reading inspire your creative work? What writing are you doing there now and how is that informed by place and culture?

I am getting my master degree on Instructional Design and Technology. My master project is collaborating with the Creative Writing Program of ESU and create an online poetry writing class. The topic of this course is Radical Poetry Writing. Since I have been writing and researching this type of poetry for a while, so I am not only the instructional designer of this project, I am also co-writing the instructional materials for this course as well. The topics in this project include Radical poetics in different cultures, Radical poetics in performances and many others.

You mentioned that you compose your poetry in Chinese and then translate it into English. Talk about your translation process and your translating philosophy. What resources have supported this undertaking?

The way I write is no different than the way I talk. Since I speak two languages, so it is not hard for me to translate my works into English. But still, because English is not my first language, I have to have friends who help me work on my writing and grammar.

You are the author of the self-published chapbook The Elephant’s Scale forthcoming from Lu Lu and the author of Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide from blurb. Can you tell us about your chapbooks?

The reason why I picked Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide as the title for my last chapbook, it because of the shock value of the title. I did some research about Chinese Cultural Revolution in the past 15 years. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao was like a god in China and people gave him credits for almost everything. One time I read an old article and the title is “A young lady butchered a pig with Maoism as a guide”. That title just blew my mind. The absurdity from that article has been haunting me few years which inspired me to write my own “absurdity” in my poetic works. I made the cover for that book which also inspired from the cover of Mao’s Little Red Book. Most of the poems in Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide has some “shock elements”. As a fan of cult movies, I always want to add the absurdity from the cult movies into poetry. I love Raymond Carver as much as I love Lloyd Kaufman.

Unlike Butchering Pigs with Maoism as a guide, my other book The Elephant’s Scale is a book for all ages. I have done many readings in past few years in Kansas area and I was known for the shock values of my poems. Sometimes, I saw parents with their kids at the readings and I felt bad about this because most of my poems are not “family friendly”. I remember one time, I had a reading at a small bookstore, a high school teacher sent his students to my reading for a class activity. I ended up only read five poems at the reading because that’s all I had. My other poems were not appropriate for them. I am going back to China after this school year and I want to leave something for the states other than my vulgar language. That’s why I released this book.

How do you define chapbook? For me, a chapbook is more like an EP and a regular book is more like an album. The length is one of the reasons makes the difference.

What makes a good chapbook? The poetic feeling.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Kevin Rabas’s All That Jazz from Spartan Press is a great chapbook and it includes some of Kevin’s best works. Tyler Sheldon’s Traumas is another little but heavy book to read.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? Follow the mood. I don’t have a common theme for it. I like to have some kind of chaos in my chapbooks. I have a poem called “I had a dream about Bob Dylan covered a Nickelback song during his set” and I think this title itself can answer this question. Maybe not. We will see!

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I read almost 100 books a year and I write every day (include Facebook posts). And I drink every day but not often get drunk. That’s the ways I try.

What’s next for you? I will go back to China after I get my master degree. I don’t have the future plan because I don’t believe the term “future”. I believe in now.

Current chapbook reading list: I don’t have a list for it. I just follow the mood.

Number of chapbooks you own: About 30.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: About 30.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I do what I can to be an active poet.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: Write good poems and share good poems.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Beer, coffee, and books.

Residence: Emporia, Kansas. But I am leaving back to China next year.

Job: Life model at the art department of Emporia State University.

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