Chapbooks: Quick Reads

This is post #3 for #BlogchatterA2Z. This includes blogging everyday in April for 26 days, except on Sundays. What’s special about it is that every day’s post will be corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. 

My theme for 2021 is Bookish Trivia. If you liked this post, don’t forget to “roll” me on Blogchatter’s website!

All my #BlogchatterA2Z posts 2021 can be found here.

The word “chapbooks” reminds me of ChapStick, a brand of lip balm. So chapbooks are like a balm for the bruised soul of the heaving masses. You don’t understand the association, do you?

Let me make it clearer:

Chapbooks are what people in the UK (and in other parts of the world) call “pamphlets.”

Modern chapbooks

Modern chapbooks include publications between 20 and 40 pages that contain poems or literary extracts. Fiction and nonfiction chapbooks are also becoming popular.

Chapbooks are targeted towards busy people who don’t have the time to read full-length novels, yet want to experience good-quality writing in a single sitting.

As with everything now-a-days, chapbooks are being published online and are variously called e-chapbooks, e-chaps, or online chapbooks.

Chapbooks can be low-cost publications or expensive hand-made editions. Usually, when people talk about chapbooks, they mean inexpensive booklets or leaflets.

History of Chapbooks

The name chapbooks comes from chapmen, people who sold the booklets. In Old English, “chap” means trade.

Printed material became affordable in the 16th century and people started buying chapbooks. They were very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, when more people could read.

The word “chapbook” was coined in 1824.

Chapmen carried chapbooks in boxes and sold them throughout the countryside or at street corners. Chapbooks would cost two or three pence and included all sorts of content such as nursery rhymes, religious and moral instruction, cookery tips, folk tales, poetry, ballads, and political tracts.

Chapbooks were printed on a single sheet of cheap paper and then folded to create booklets with 8, 12, 16 and 24 pages. They may or may not have been illustrated.

They were often read aloud to an audience and people repeated its contents by memory, sometimes introducing distortions.

The names of some popular chapbooks were:

Poetry Chapbooks

The most common form of modern chapbooks are poetry chapbooks that serve as the portfolio of aspiring poets. They could have several poems in one page or a collection of long poems across several pages.

Usually, there’s a unifying theme in the poetry. Poets publish chapbooks because they’re inexpensive to produce and serve as proof of concept to send to traditional publishing houses before they publish books.

Poetry chapbooks draw their origins from the American Beat poets of the 1950s and 1960s, when these booklets were an alternative to books produced by industrial printing presses.

Chapbooks are usually saddle-stitched, which means that they are kept together with a few staples along the spine of the book.

Today’s chapbooks are 6″ X 9″ in size.

Some poets who published chapbooks are:

  • T.S. Eliot published each poem of The Four Quartets as chapbooks before it was published as a book in 1943.
  • Ted Hughes published Animal Poems in 1967.
  • Carol Ann Duffy published William and the Ex-Prime Minister in 1992.
  • H. Melt published On My Way to Liberation (Haymarket Books) in 2018.

Chapbook by Indian Poets

Did you know that you can buy FIVE, a collection of five poetry chapbooks composed by Indian poets?

The collection contains these titles:

a) Your Baby is Starving by Arjun Rajendran

b) Ordinary by Usha Akella

c) Wingman by Mihir Vatsa

d) Dental Hygiene is Very Important by Manjiri Indurkar

e) Occupying my Tongue by Nandini Dhar



You can also read the first two posts in this series:

A for Age Tanning

B for Biopredation

16 thoughts on “Chapbooks: Quick Reads

  1. Loved this post Satabdi–well researched and well written
    I get your ‘balm’ reference.
    Didn’t know Ted Hughes and Carol Ann Duffy went down chapbook route.
    Gives me hope for publishing my own one day:)

  2. Thank you for introducing us to Chapbooks. What a wonderful concept it is and it would surely work towards encouraging more people to read.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.