chapbook poetry

the chapbook interview: Sarah Ann Winn on “the ephemeral things I hold dear”

You are the author of the chapbook Portage (Sundress Publications, 2014). What did you learn during your MFA studies about the chapbook?

As excellent as GMU’s program was, I didn’t learn very much about the chapbook in my classes there. Most of what I learned was in conversations with my friends who were submitting/assembling chapbooks. Occasionally someone would mention them in a class (usually a student), or I would see them as final products in displays for courses I hadn’t taken but wish I had been able to (like Susan Tichy’s poem-as-object class, Book Beasts), but overall, I was not required to read any, and there was no formal learning outcome which related to them specifically. I learned by going to panels and in the book room at AWP as well. They can be such tactile objects that being able to see them in person/hold them in my hands was an essential part of my learning experience.


Your chapbook Portage isn’t a tactile object in the sense that it’s an echapbook. What are the benefits of publishing echapbooks?

One of the benefits of publishing an e-chap is the wide audience. For a small publisher like Sundress, it keeps costs down, and distribution easy. At AWP, I was able to hand people my card, and more than one person said that they planned to have their class download it as an additional text, since it was free. What a great way for a poet at the beginning of their career to develop readership!


What chapbooks and chapbook presses do you admire for the tactile objects they create and why?

There are many presses that are doing a great job capitalizing on the physical capabilities of chapbooks. One thing that they have in common is their attention to detail/use of the form to enhance the already beautiful work. Something that’s been interesting to watch is the more and more frequent inclusion of hybrid works in chapbook lineups. This seems like a match made in heaven, where both are the manticores of the literary world.

In no particular order, here are a few I love:

Yellow Flag – Block print painted covers on some (like Erica McCreedy’s Red Winter), unique size on others (like Lauren Gordon’s Generalizations About Spines), this press clearly takes into consideration the style of the poet.

Porkbelly – These handmade beauties with full color covers are sold on Etsy. All of their titles are head turners. I admired them before they picked up my micro chap, Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (due out next year).


Miel Books – Their catalog would be dreamy in full size features as well – but in minis!? I felt like swooning at their table. Slip covers, illustrations throughout, diagrams, authors are frequently hybrid works writers. what’s not to love? Miel also does something rare – their chaps and microchaps have ISBNs, making them more available/visible to bookstores and libraries.

Red Bird Chapbooks – Have you seen Donna Vorreyer’s chapbook, Encantado? Its cover and images throughout were done by Matt Kish. It’s printed in full color on Superfine Ultra White Eggshell Paper. The inside text is printed on Archival Bright White paper. It’s in Garamond. I know all these things because Red Bird prints them on the copyright page! This is artistic pride, and well founded.

Sometimes it’s the small details that offer huge results: Hyacinth Girl and Blood Pudding both use pretty ribbon bindings, and full color covers. Dancing Girl’s covers are also in full color, but the texture of the covers are also somehow stylistically appropriate to the content (Sara Henning’s Garden Effigies cover feels like a sketchbook, mirroring the poems’ light touch and deft craft. Mary McMyne’s Wolfskin feels like a well worn storybook.) It doesn’t have to be an all out extravaganza. I have read and loved chapbooks where the presses didn’t go to such extraordinary lengths. I think, though, that something about the process of making these and reading them binds the reader and publisher together as people who love the same things. It also seems to imply a relationship with the author/connection with his or her work that as the reader, I appreciate.


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I adore the title of your chapbook and the ellipse design after each title of the poems within. There’s a sense of longing that permeates the book. What inspired Portage

The poems in Portage were inspired directly by my childhood, and being raised by my grandparents. When you’re raised by people who are a generation removed from most people’s parents, the question of how to hold on to memories is an ever pressing one, because they can see their own past slipping into history. I felt this sense of urgency move into high gear when my sister died while I was in high school, and have been trying to figure out ways to preserve my personal history/the ephemeral things I hold dear ever since.


How do you define chapbook? A small collection of tightly woven poems, linked thematically or stylistically.

What makes a good chapbook? I think it’s important that each individual poem has a clear relationship to the next. Of course, as associate editor for ELJ, I also hope that the poems in each manuscript are polished, and as a reader I enjoy the physical object, but a core value for me is that strong link between each poem.


What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? So many! M. Mack’s Traveling (Hyacinth Girl, 2015), Shana Youngdahl’s Winter/Windows (Miel, 2013), Ruth Foley’s Creature Feature (ELJ, 2015), Laura Gordon’s Generalizations About Spines (Yellow Flag, 2015) (really anything by Lauren Gordon – all her chaps are amazing!), Amorak Huey‘s The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014) — these are just a few!

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? I am so fortunate to workshop often with Jennifer MacBain Stevens and Sarah Lilius. Sarah’s What Becomes Within is brave and poignantly written, and Jennifer’s Jeanne (Be About It Press, 2015) and The Visitant (Shirt Pocket, 2015) are tightly woven and have such beautiful unexpected language. I also really love Sally Rosen Kindred‘s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl, 2014), Mary McMyne’s Wolfskin (Dancing Girl, 2014), Kelly Boyker’s Zoonosis (Hyacinth Girl, 2014), and Sara Biggs Chaney’s Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets (Dancing Girl, 2014).

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? (I think I mostly answered this above)

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I’m trying to look for unexpected links in my work which already exist, and to write longer sequences. I have poet A.D.H.D, and tend to race from one interesting thing to another, rather than really settling in with a topic, and letting it blossom.

What’s next for you? I’m finalizing a full length manuscript of poems about Glinda the Good Witch who’s grown tired of Oz, and who leaves. These poems explore the intertwined ideas of home and identity.

Number of chapbooks you own: 30? 40? Many…

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: Almost all that I own. I am just now catching up with my AWP haul.


Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I enjoy reading chapbook manuscripts for ELJ, and appreciate their commitment to discovering new artists. I try to read widely, and beyond my own circle of friends, and tweet/Facebook promote the amazing finds I make. I’d like to commit to writing more reviews, but right now I owe 2-3, and this is enough of a backlog to tell me that this might be beyond me for now. Writing reviews is something that I really enjoyed doing as a School Librarian, and have moved away from it to a degree to focus on generating new material. Time to get back to it!

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: Mostly, I recommend the ones I read and like to friends/followers. I try to talk about titles that I adore often in interviews and online, because word of mouth is so important in our community. I also enjoy trading manuscripts, because manuscript critiquing services can be expensive. (Of course, this is also self serving, because I get a second set of eyes/third/fourth, and I get to preview wonderful work.)

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: In my imagination — the only place that currency’s accepted.

Residence: Manassas, Virginia

Job: Free Range Librarian

Chapbook education: MFA from George Mason University in Creative Writing Poetry, MSLiS in School Librarianship from Catholic University of America (They seem equally important to my chapbook’s generation!)

Chapbook Bio: Sarah Ann Winn’s poems have appeared or will appear in Cider Press Review, Hobart (online), Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, and RHINO, among others. Porkbelly will be releasing her micro chapbook, Haunting the Last House on Holland Island, in Summer of 2016. Her chapbook, Portage, is available as a free download from Sundress Publications. Visit her at or follow her @blueaisling on Twitter.

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