You are the co-owner of Space Cowboy Books which is a sci-fi used bookstore in Joshua Tree, CA where you hold monthly readings. Space Cowboy Books is also an independent publisher that publishes chapbooks by local authors. You are the author of the chapbooks Future Anthropology, The Great Encounter, and In Iudicio, two of which are also available as audio-chapbooks. Talk about your interest in chapbooks. What does working as a bookstore owner and publisher offer to you in terms of insights into the genre, craft, and creation of chapbooks?
As a teenager I fell in love with literature and culture in general and started producing my first zine. A few years later when I began writing poetry more seriously I began to make chapbooks, writing for a local magazine and tabling at zine fests, art shows, etc. This lifelong love of literature and homemade media eventually led me to opening a bookstore. These days I write science fiction short stories and speculative poetry, so it was only natural for my bookstore to specialize in science fiction. We carry a little bit of everything (classic literature was my first love) and I love talking to all kinds of readers and writers about the amazing depth of the field of literature. Working with our customers and local authors has given me a deeper relationship with contemporary works and helped me to understand just how alive the field of literature really is. This is one of the reasons that we sell old books to raise money to publish new ones. So far we have released seven chapbooks, mostly for local authors, and have many others slated to come out next year. I still use the old scissors and tape method to create the originals for our publications. I think that people still love the immediate, tactile feel of a real book or chapbook, and by doing things the old fashion way I believe that it puts people in touch with the writing in an immediate way. Publishing and running the bookstore has been a great way to keep in touch with the modern literary world and to do our best to contribute to culture. I look forward to working with more authors, especially those in the speculative genres. I’m also a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, currently running for vice president, and I have found that this is a wonderful way to discover new writers. As a bookstore owner and independent publisher I find it extremely important to support other independent presses. Space Cowboy consigns books, chapbooks, and zines from tons of local authors, and host release parties on a regular basis. It is wonderful to be in touch with so many contemporary authors and to be involved in the discussions about literature that arise from bringing such a group together.
Your new chapbook Future Anthropology has recently been released from Space Cowboy Books. It’s a collection of apocalyptic poems with lines that reveal almost irreversible environmental changes such as “Remember the days when we drank from the tap” and “Before we bled and ruined the soil.” Yet, there’s hope in this future, a time when it’s possible to still “Give thanks,” as your poem urges, “So raise a glass to what is left.” Talk about your interest in the speculative and sci-fi. What is it about this genre that inspires hope despite grim circumstances?
One of the things that I love about writing sci-fi is that it is inherently hopeful. By writing about the future it must be presupposed that there is a future, and if there is a future then there is hope. While much science fiction, including this collection of poems, can be quite dark at times, the very fact that their vantage point is the future implies that something went right (at least in terms of mankind surviving). In Future Anthropology the poems are meant to be a look at today’s culture, viewed from the future. By using different vantage points it allows the reader to look at our current follies and triumphs without being implicated in the process. I think that this possibility is one of the strengths of science fiction; no reader feels like being criticized, but by using sci-fi tropes like aliens and robots we are able to look at humanity from another culture’s lens and learn about ourselves without feeling like the finger is being pointed at us. The poem referred to in the question is a drinking song from the future. While we often take for granted the comforts of life, we also forget that many of those comforts are not new and are based on some of humanity’s oldest technologies, such as making beer.
What brought you to poetry – as opposed to the novel or essay?
I wrote my first poem at nine years old, and have had a lifelong relationship with poetry ever since. That being said, I am also a novelist and occasionally write essays. I find writing in all forms to be an intriguing past time, so much so that at one point I worked as a contract preparer. Writing in the field of law strikes me as the flip side of poetry, the attempt to write with concise meaning. With poetry I try to use the form as a way of storytelling, and sometimes the poems will become the seeds of short stories. It is my belief that a good writer should be able to write anything, that is anything that the subject matter dictates. Writing poetry has taught me the importance of prosody. This lesson has found its way into my fiction, and the story arc of fiction has found its way into my poetry. Because of this I do not look at the different forms of writing as separate entities but rather as a variety of tools for addressing subject material.
What is the work of the poem in a chapbook? What is the work of the chapbook?
I know some people that take the attitude that the medium is the message. I disagree with this standpoint. I believe that the chapbook exists as a platform for the writing or art that they contain. For me the work always comes first. As a medium I find the chapbook important because it a wonderful outlet for small presses, fairly inexpensive to produce and easy to put together. I also love the handmade quality of the medium and feel that it is a more personal connection with the authors and publishers. It is wonderful that the chapbook continues a long tradition of handmade books, since books have been made by hand since long before the advent of the printing press. In the digital age I think that it is important that we not lose touch with the tactile, physical world, and the longevity of paper books.
How do you define chapbook? A handmade mini book, usually photocopied and saddle stitched.
What makes a good chapbook? Quality of presentation and quality of the writing or art inside.
What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? The Science Fiction Poetry Association makes a quarterly magazine in chapbook form called Star*Line that is really nicely put together. I have also seen some beautiful little origami style chapbooks, one of my next publications will be in this form.
What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? Mostly that the writing and artwork be high quality. I also make sure to do my printing locally.
How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I do my best to have every chapbook be better than the last one I published, both in content and presentation.
What’s next for you? In the next few months Space Cowboy Books will be publishing more chapbooks, here’s a few that are slated to come out soon: Nothing to See Here by Gabriel Hart, Us Clone by Jean-Paul Garnier, Land of Sugar by [x-AT], and a collection of poetry by Patti Pangborn.
Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. Today independent presses are more important than ever. My goal is to promote that literature is alive and well and not just something that happened before we were born.
Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: We send chapbooks out for review and the bookstore has a local author video interview series.
Where you spend your chapbook earnings: At the print shop making more chapbooks.
Your chapbook wish: To own my own copy machine.
Residence: Joshua Tree, CA
Job: Bookstore Owner / Publisher
Chapbook education: Maker and reader since 2000
Chapbook bio: Jean-Paul Garnier is the author of the six chapbooks Post-Climax Exhaustion, The Devil Wears a Hat, 100 Haiku, Rondels, High-Coup, The Great Encounter, and Future Anthropology. Chapbooks published by Space Cowboy Books include Cinema of Life by Gabriel Hart, The Inflatable Catechism by Giovanni Garcia, The Father by Jakes Bayley, I’m Sending Messages Into Outer Space by Rik Livingston, and LGBTQ+ Voices by Various Poets.