Claire Gittins: Creating a poetry chapbook

Claire Gittins: Creating a poetry chapbook

This week’s post is brought to you by Claire Gittins, a second year student in English Language and Literature. Her first chapbook, The First Sailors Used the Stars to Navigate, will be coming out soon. It includes “haikus describing the truth of an image or the authors personal experience, prose poetry describing larger philosophical truths interpreted by the poet, and finally a selection of cut up poetry assemble out of entirely factual documents such as archival material as well as academic or legal material.”  In this post, she guides us through the process of creating a poetry chapbook.

Whether you’re Wordsworth’s biggest fan or a poet and you just didn’t know it, creating your own poetry chapbook is a major step in your writing career.

A poetry chapbook is a small sample of a poetry work that usually does not exceed 30 pages, which makes it manageable for the beginning or hobbyist poet.  Chapbooks offer a huge range options for distribution as well: you can publish with a traditional publisher, self-publish, or just make a few copies to give to your friends and family.

I’m going to take you through my process for creating a chapbook, and hopefully it will help you do the same!

Step One: Choose a Theme

Choosing a unifying theme for your chapbook helps to guide your work. You get to decide how strictly you want to follow you theme and what it influences.  Themes can influence your content, style, and even the structures you use for the poems.  A strong theme can also make your work fit together nicely.

Step Two: Experiment With Structure and Style

Style lets people know that you’re you!  It’s your personality fit to the page, so don’t worry about imitating another poet’s style.  Your inflection and the nuances of your writing are what make your work stand out.  You can tear up the page without the constraints of structure. (That’s called free verse, for our very beginning poets!)

However, some writers prefer constraints that help to motivate the creative process.  You can use structures like Elizabethan and Petrarchan sonnets, haikus, odes, limericks and so much more.  A Google search for ‘forms of poetry’ yields dozens of results so you’ll never run out of structures to play with.

Step Three: Getting To It

Now is the tricky part.  Up until this point we’ve been zooming through some pretty exciting creative decisions.  We’re motivated.  We’re creating.  But now we actually have to do it: write poetry.  There is no one right way to write your poems, and sometimes it feels like you’ve gone as far as you can go, but keep trying.  You never know what’s just around the corner.  Surgite!

Step Four: Editing

When I first started writing poetry, I didn’t know you could edit poems.  I thought however they happened the first time around was the way they would stay and that they could be judged on their first form.

Nothing could be further from the truth!  You have the power to change anything about your poems anytime, so don’t be afraid to add things in, take them out, reverse the order of things, and generally experiment with your own work.  You can always change it back if you’re not keen on the edits.

Step Five: Formatting

The final step to creating a chapbook is to format it.  This is another way to showcase your creativity!

Do you want to staple it into a booklet?  Format in Microsoft Word with the Book Fold option under Page Setup and print it out. (Brock students can use Word on computers in the Computer Commons)

Do you want to distribute it online?  Take photos of your poems and arrange them in an Instagram post.

Many chapbooks have art in them, and you can add things like collages or pressed flowers.  Cover design is important, too!  Pick something you think speaks to the theme of you chapbook to maximize fluency.

And that’s it!

Good luck with your chapbooks badgers!  Have fun and keep creating.







About ainnes

Social Media Coordinator, Faculty of Humanities, Brock University

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