2018 Holiday Chapbook Gift Guide

Are you still searching for the perfect gifts for those impossible-to-shop-for people in your life? Do you delight in small, perfect objects? Are words your jam? Perhaps, then, this chapbook gift guide could provide a solution to at least one of your holiday season riddles.

Tunsiya/Amrikiya, Leila Chatti
Bull City Press, 2018
Available on the Bull City Press Website and from Small Press Distribution

Recommended for: ghosts, gods, granddaughters, ambassadors, mystics, saints, and reprobates

This is a seriously gorgeous debut from the most promising poet I’ve read in years. Leila Chatti is a young Tunisian/American woman navigating a selfhood that’s dual in many ways—divided between countries, cultures, families, religions. “There is no world in which I am not haunted, no willing God to relinquish me…” Differences lie in the details: while walking on the sand with her father in Tunisia she sees flies as ellipses in the sky, and the desert heat “licks us and leaves its animal / scent, salt…” while in Michigan, the icy winter sidewalks are “salt-marbled” and a different sort of boy waits outside for her “in a car humming down the street, thumbs /drumming the wheel and the tailpipe panting.” Chatti’s mastery of language and craft is remarkable, but it’s the way she writes her own alienation in the face of the rise of anti-Muslim violence—conveyed with intelligence and an abiding respect for her own soul—that left me breathless. She’s an American girl watching sitcoms with laugh tracks, she’s at a funeral in Tunisia embracing people she hardly knows, and though she’s never quite at home, she’s carried forward by a persistent kind of spirit. Or at least these poems are. They soar; they’re exciting, vulnerable, entirely disarming. They draw you in and you fall in love.
-- Mary Peelen

Wives’ Tales, Marjorie Maddox
Seven Kitchens Press, 2017
Available on the Seven Kitchens Press Website

Recommended for: Your friend who never misses “Once Upon A Time”

Fairytales, particularly as retold for adults, are having something of a renaissance, from TV shows like “Once Upon A Time,” to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” and author Betsy Cornwell’s best-selling YA novels Mechanica, Venturess, and The Forest Queen. Marjorie Maddox’s poems in Wives’ Tales are a funny yet sensual addition to this trend, offering a feminist take on classic stories and rhymes, giving voice to characters like the wife in the nursery rhyme “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater,” who speaks from her home:

“Keeps me very well? Hell
should be so orange. My hands
smell of it. Bits of shell
beneath my nails. I can’t
turn around, breathe.”

Throughout the collection, both in the first half “The Tales” and later in “The Wives,” Maddox’s poems are a reminder of the bitter origins of fairy tales and nursery rhymes – the murder hidden behind happily ever after, the treacherous endings from the Brothers Grimm. But there’s always a twist. Goldilocks “has a love-hate relationship with bears”; the grandmother transforms the wolf’s ribs to knitting needles. Even non-poetry readers will be drawn down the rabbit hole in pursuit of these vibrant verses.

-- Allison Bird Treacy

When We Were Fearsome, Joanna Penn Cooper
Ethel Zine Press, 2018
Available on the Ethel Zine Etsy store

Recommended for: Melancholy moms who haven’t lost their edge

The Harriet blog called Joanna Penn Cooper’s 2014 full-length collection What Is a Domicile a “must-read” for those who “seek innovative poetry that engages with motherhood.” With When We Were Fearsome, Cooper expands on her previous methods and concerns, providing a glimpse into a consciousness that is at once maternal, antsy, edgy, and witty. In a poem about using a breast pump, she writes, "you could swear the repeated/ sound of the sucking/ mechanism was talking/ to you, repeating something like your love is/ cold                     your love is cold           you’re/ wondering, Is that a Prince line? Or the devil/ maybe, but right now you are too tired to care." Like a series of letters from your smart, funny, fiercely individualistic friend, this is poetry for and about contemporary feminists raising children under vexed conditions ... and those who love them.

-- Sara Lefsyk

Whiteout, Jessica Goodfellow
University of Alaska Press, 2017
Available from the University of Alaska Press Website (and Amazon)

Recommended for: Mountaineering majors who minor in pun appreciation

Whiteout is a poetic exploration of loss, centered around the towering presence of Alaska’s Denali. Goodfellow’s uncle, Steve Taylor, was a member of the July 1967 Wilcox Expedition. Seven of the twelve climbers perished during a sudden storm, making it the deadliest expedition to date on Denali. In Whiteout, Goodfellow delves into details about climbing and geography – how climbers ride out weather, how glaciers move, why bodies lost in these conditions cannot be recovered, or sometimes cannot even be found. She also examines what it feels like to be raised in silence around this particular type of loss – the absence of a body, the absence of information around his death, and his palpable absence in the life of the family. In particular, Goodfellow uses language to highlight the confusion this silence creates. Many of her titles have the word “uncle” embedded in them: Untraceable, Uncleaved, Uncollected, Unconsoled, Unchronicled, Unreachable. The very prefix for absence serves as a constant reminder. Goodfellow also makes lavish use of wordplay to scrutinize what is and isn’t said about this loss, and the technique is layered, rather than amusing: Denali/denial, wrapped/rapt, rend/render/surrender. In “Unchronicled,” she writes: “Pallbearers stand in an uncertain circle,/ staring at a shadow, a pall, cast by no body.// We cannot hoist no body onto our shoulders./We cannot pale this pall.” The natural bewilderment of a child processing language is overlaid with the struggle to make sense of an event so painful adults won’t speak of it. The poems in Whiteout function as a highly readable story, and you’ll return to individual pieces as the layers of that story unfold.

-- Sonja Johanson

Footnote, Trish Hopkinson
Lithic Press, 2017
Available on the Lithic Press Website

Recommended for: That human in your life who can relate to Ginsberg and classic rock

Trish Hopkinson’s Footnote takes intimately personal, but intensely relatable, life events and ties them together with literary and pop culture references to create an experience that is satisfying to both the mind and the heart. This is Utah-based Trish Hopkinson’s third chapbook. Footnote is a collection written for or in response to cultural and literary icons and includes a wide range of forms, sure to keep any reader interested and engaged. She returns to the feminine experience again and again throughout. In “From Her to Eternity,” the poet manages to pair Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Rainer Maria Rilke to amplify that doleful and timeless feeling that only women connected understand. She writes, “Her mortality satisfies her longing—to embrace time, to touch tangibility, to lose what’s worth having.” Beat Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting,” reversed and erased, seems to serve up a stark and childlike portrait of the reader, herself, in “Reconstructed Happiness.” Even the lines of the movie “Blue Velvet” yield up “Blue Daydream,” both spare and relentless, where we leave the female singer “rolled up on the bottom / shelf where she / has always been.” Each poem in the series includes a footnote to indicate to whom she is responding. Anyone receiving Footnote as a gift would return to it again and again.

-- Lisa Wence Connors

Adaptations, Emily Pinkerton
Nomadic Press, 2018
Available from the Nomadic Press Website and from Small Press Distribution

Recommended for: People who spend the holidays with problematic family members but are looking for ways to adapt and survive

In Adaptations, Emily Pinkerton captures movement we all know: the sediment of memory, the landscapes we carry, and “the directions in [us], like instinct, like bones.” This chapbook is a work of internal and external navigation, where the wanderer is untamed and maps are mere suggestions. With poise and a knowing edge, her poems look at the toxic with the care of an open heart and a rearview mirror. Haunting and contemplative with a rare light along the edges, Pinkerton’s words open the senses. A perfect book for the inquisitive, voracious traveler, Adaptations will stay with you.

-- Kar Johnson

The Aeneid, from Books 1 & 2, from Book 3, from Book 4
Translated by David Hadbawnik with illustrations by Carrie Kaser Little Red Leaves Textile Editions, 2013 - 2014
All three chapbooks available from the Textile Series Web Store

Recommended for: Former presidents of the Junior Classical League and other such classics nerds

Once my twelfth-grade Latin teacher yelled at me for failing to complete my homework, a translation of a random passage from the Aeneid. All of our homework was translating passages from the Aeneid. I think maybe I would have enjoyed translating it more if I’d known I was allowed to write like David Hadbawnik writes in these translations. Listen to Iarbus gripe about Dido to Jupiter in Book 4:

“Father”        he cried
“Just how powerful are you, how mighty
          can your black thunderbolts be
          if this bitch is allowed to set up shop
          right in our midst - spit in my face
                    marrying Aeneas?

Now this man, this new Paris
          with his effeminate retinue
          and greasy hair
          seizes plunder rightfully ours--

Surely we worship you in vain.”

The chapbooks in the Textile Series from Little Red Leaves are also among the beautiful chapbooks ever. The covers are printed on cotton, and the cotton is sewn onto cardstock. The resulting object is a work of art and would look quite handsome sticking out any stocking.

-- Sarah B. Boyle

Less Precious, Rhiannon Conley
Semiperfect Press, 2017
Available on the Semiperfect Press Website

Recommended for: The kid who really enjoyed the dissection part of biology class

Less Precious, at its core, is about life. Maybe that sounds obvious; anything can be about life, right? But these poems examine specifically the physical nature of life, the tiny bodies that we grow inside of us or the ones we grow into, the flesh and bones that we all eventually leave behind. There's so much wonder and beauty to be found in the corporeal world and the speaker doesn't shy away from peeking under the skin -- see the poem titled "20 Surprising Uses for Blood." It's all about connections, finding some sort of meaning in the fact that "the fetuses / of all mammals resemble each other." "Don't let me die alone," the speaker says in "In Sickness and in Health," "just let my throat and white belly / expel my last breath among friends / or, at least, among my own kind."

-- Robyn Campbell

Reviewers for this gift guide include: Robyn Campbell, Lisa Wence Connors, Sonja Johanson, Kar Johnson, Sara Lefsyk, Mary Peelen, Allison Bird Treacy, and reviews editor Sarah B. Boyle.