I love chapbooks when they are well-made. They don’t have to be arty chapbooks with pricey paper and phenomenally designed covers though I like those too. While I understand that part of the ethos behind making chapbooks is to get the material out into the world quickly and cheaply, I don’t think that urgency precludes taking a bit of time and thought with the design of the book. This vision can be ultra-simple but should still be considerate of the sensory, the tangible. The chapbook maker I want to laud at the moment in this department is David Zieroth’s Alfred Gustav press. Excuse the hideous pictures, but they give you the essential concept: an enticing font, plain but not chintzy paper and a child-like pencil crayon drawing on the front cover in B & W that’s repeated in colour within and generally represents the over-arching theme of the text. There are usually about 12 poems in each chapbook, enough to whet the reader’s appetite for more of the author’s work without exhausting their interest. At the end of the book, each poet has a one page note that elaborates on the genesis of the poems, their history, underlying narratives or whatever they have chosen to express in relation to the material. Stapled and of the perfect size to hold in one hand while gripping the coffee mug with the other, the Alfred Gustav chapbooks are a deep read in a light envelope. Zieroth usually publishes well-known poets who desire to release a sampling of previously unpublished poems, only six chapbooks a year, and available for a supremely reasonable price.
The press is named after his father, a farmer, and there is a similar down-to-earth workmanship evidenced in Zieroth’s chapbook press from North Vancouver, BC. Some presses may seek to do it basic like aboveground or ornate as with rednettle or the collaborative production teams at Jackpine, but presses like Zieroth’s or angelhousepress seek to make chapbooks that are lovely while still being readable rather than serving as relatively untouchable object d’art delights.