Naoko Fujimoto on how chapbooks help us understand the experiences of others and the creative process of cover design and graphic poetry

You are the author of the chapbooks Home, No Home (Educe Press 2016) winner of the annual Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, Silver Seasons of Heartache (Glass Lyre Press 2017), and Mother Said, I Want Your Pain (Backbone Press, 2018), winner of the Shared Dream Immigrant contest, Where I Was Born, winner of the editor’s choice (Willow Books, 2019), and Glyph: Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory (Tupelo Press, 2019). Much of your work confronts big issues like the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, World War II, infertility, miscarriage, and heartbreak. Talk about inspiration and the writing process. What brings you to the poem?

I cannot ignore facts by people who survived their conflicts. Even though I try to push them aside (it is their lives, not mine), I sincerely and unconsciously think of them a lot. It may be inappropriate to say that the moment is my inspiration; however, it is how those moments effect the people I hear them from that inspire me, how a human life is molded by and reflects a particular experience. That reflection helps focus my thoughts. I think that I am an incomplete human being, so learning of history and someone’s experience helps me to understand myself. In conclusion, I am creating chapbooks to help me learn about myself through the reflection of those around me.

Recently, I had a chance to talk to my private teacher who was one of the earliest students to receive a college degree from Nara Woman’s University. (There were only two female universities in Japan in the 1940’s.)

She was a political prisoner under the GHQ from 1945 to 1948 because she protested against them to remind Japanese people how important it was to keep its own judicial system. She kept this fact from me and her students until she was ninety years old because she did not want us to see the world through her historical lens.

I have not written about it yet; however, the fact is seeded inside me somewhere. This feeling is similar to when I listened to earthquake survivors and women who had miscarriages.

Talk about the work of chapbook cover design. What’s this process like for you? What goes into selecting a good cover image?

I have two beliefs for selecting a cover image. One is that the image must reflect the theme of the book. The second is that my publishers and teams must be happy about our final products. When my first chapbook, Home, No Home, was accepted, I immediately asked my publisher (Educe Press) if it was possible to design my own cover. Their marketing team would like to select one image for a professional appearance. However, I could not give up on my first cover, so I sent my original art with a note, “Please use it if you like, otherwise, toss it”, or something like that. I was not sure that my drawing could support their sales, nor was it art-forward for chapbook markets. The publisher had Igor Zelenov, who adapted my original design into the simple red & white sleek design. I absolutely loved it because his ecstatic was beautifully different than mine, yet it represented my theme so perfectly.

I like both covers of Silver Seasons of Heartache (Glass Lyre Press, 2017) and Mother Said, I Want Your Pain (Backbone Press, 2018). For the most recent cover, I used my graphic poem, “Phobos and Deimos”, with a digital adaptation of an old, personal photo. My mother was beautiful with a three month old me. Crystal Simone Smith (Backbone Press) adapted it into the final product. Writing poems may be hard, but graphic poems and designing cover arts are really pleasurable to me.

Your forthcoming full-length book is “Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory” by Tupelo Press (winter, 2019). Talk about this book and describe graphic poetry. What lead you to create it? What was creation process like?
Graphic poetry is the melding of words and images. “Trans.” has two meanings, translate and transport. I translate my poems into words and images to create a contemporary Japanese picture scroll (Emaki). And I want my viewers to transport their senses from the flat paper and bridge the gap between words and images that will connect with their physical counterparts.

About two years ago, when I left my full-time work to concentrate on myself, Jeffrey Levine (Tupelo Press) kindly invited me to a residency at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). During the stay, I observed traditional and contemporary works with words and images. Later, I visited many museums in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto, and thought: “What if I removed images from the art, as if the words were strong enough to stand by themselves.” I wanted to approach art from my poetic roots.

The creation process is fantastically fun. I select materials from Takayama, Japan, and many other inspirited places. When I have chances to show my works in the social media and public places, many people provide wonderful feedback. Some of my works are displayed in Tupelo Quarterly, and I also explain my detailed processes in my website. Please visit the website if you would like to learn more about graphic poetry.

Photo credit: Olivia Todd

How do you define chapbook? A chapbook is like a preview of a movie—a collection of exciting moments from a full-length book—when I read a good chapbook, I would like to read more of it and I start following the author’s past and future publications. In addition, chapbooks are slightly more reasonable than a full-length book.

Because of a chapbook’s characteristics (short collection and a bit more casual than a full-length work), the authors may experiment with their compositions—topics, how they use spaces on the pages, orders of contents, cover-art…I think that a chapbook contains more sparks of inspiration than a full-length, so I observe these details and study them. Of course, I like reading a full-length collection too; however, my personality (English as a second language with a short temper) may be very suitable for the chapbook form.

I also gift my favorite chapbooks to non-poetry-readers—artistic, interesting topics yet not too heavy even though the authors wrote about life conflicts—chapbooks are very intimate and beautiful, which remind of me when I was a young girl collecting candy wrappers from all over the world. I grew up in Japan, but my family often had foreign guests who brought me their local sweets. My favorite was a pink square caramel in a vividly bright wrapper from Turkey. Just like that, my collection of chapbooks occupies a large portion of my bookshelf and mind.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days?

Linda Dove’s This Too (Tebot Bach, 2017)

Faisal Mohyuddin’s The Riddle of Longing (Backbone Press, 2017)

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? When I put together a chapbook, I look for a cohesiveness. I always have a spine, or theme to the collection, along with supporting poems. For example; my first chapbook, Home, No Home (Educe Press 2016), was about the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. My second chapbook, Silver Seasons of Heartache (Glass Lyre Press 2017) was about the heartbroken moments of a life. And my most recent chapbook, Mother Said, I Want Your Pain, was about a remembrance of World War II, and a young couple’s struggles having a child.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I try to craft my chapbook as a poetic entertainment, including the cover-art. Readers dedicate some time and a small amount of money to read my short collection. Despite my topics, I would like my readers to enjoy themselves and stimulate their brains.

I put much energy and effort into all of my chapbooks; however, I think the last is more sophisticated than the first two. Mother Said, I Want Your Pain contains two heavier topics, World War II and a miscarriage. This chapbook has a gloomy spine; however, I think that the narrative guides my readers through to the end without boring them (hopefully).

I am learning new techniques from publishers and editors when I craft a chapbook. It is similar to making good fried rice. I love Chinese style fried rice—not too sticky, but not too dry—and it is a simple dish, but so flavorful. It takes about ten minutes to cook; though, I must know the timing of dropping eggs, garlic, vegetables, and left-over rice to get it right. I watch Chinese chefs and ask my friends how to make better fried rice. Even if I burn my fried rice, if I am hungry enough, it tastes better…but this is cooking, not crafting poetry. For poetry, I strive for perfection and want to make an achievement with every publication.

Photo credit: Woman Made Gallery

Current chapbook reading list: Nina Li Coomes’ haircut poems (Dancing Girl Press, 2017)

Number of chapbooks you own: About fifty, but they come and go.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: More than fifty. There are so many.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I do not have a particular chapbook writing community; however, I have three major supporters.

One: RHINO Poetry Magazine. I joined their editorial team last year. Since then, I participated in their poetry meetings and events. I learned a lot not only about poetry but also being a good neighbor and friend.

Two: Tupelo Press Alumni 30/30 Poets. Wonderful, Kirsten Miles (Regional Director) is organizing the community. Alumnus share their information with each other.

Three: Indiana University South Bend. Professors and my fellow-colleagues support me tremendously. They invite me to reading events in South Bend. It was also such an honor to receive a notable recent alumna award in 2017.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I am not a master of promoting and serving other chapbook poets; however, I would like to share my three methods.

One: Participate in poetry events. There are book fairs, readings & open-mic, public & private poetry events around your neighborhood. My awesome fellow-poets invite me to join their events, which is a tremendous support. Also, I recommend my fellow-poets if someone (like book stores and colleges) is looking for a featured author.

Two: Use social media. I post my upcoming news (e.g. reading events, publication acceptances, and good news) in Facebook poetry community pages, my website (, and blog.

Three: Broadcast and write reviews of other chapbooks. Whenever I have the chance to introduce chapbooks, I name their authors. In addition, I started writing micro-reviews since I have became an associate editor at RHINO Poetry Magazine ( You may check its online reviews. There are wonderful lists of full-length books and chapbooks.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: My husband and I went to Door County, Wisconsin this summer. I used my earnings to pay for special dinners like a fish boil.

Your chapbook wish: Poetic and art forward

Residence: John Ashbery’s HOME SCHOOL in Los Angeles and MASS MOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art)

Job: Currently, I am working on my poetry manuscripts and art collections.

Chapbook education: I have never received a formal/credit chapbook education.

Chapbook Bio: Naoko Fuijimoto is the author of Home, No Home (Educe Press 2016) winner of the annual Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, Silver Seasons of Heartache (Glass Lyre Press 2017), and Mother Said, I Want Your Pain (Backbone Press, 2018), winner of the Shared Dream Immigrant contest.

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