Chapbooks by Beverly Dahlen and Jamie Townsend

Handmade, Homegrown Books

Everywhere, a surfeit of essays and articles bemoan the declining fortunes of the book and the publishing industry’s deepening crisis. Even though there have been some recent hopeful reports of better times ahead, overall, the news is: the book is dead, there’s no hope. Get. Out. Now.

Despite this bleak outlook, there’s been a huge resurgence in the last few years of small, often experimental, publishers committed to the art of book-making and also excited by the technological innovations driving the written word forward into new venues, platforms, and futures. Each time one person or a few decide to launch a new small publishing venture, it feels like a mini-revolution, a stand against the pessimistic future envisioned for the book itself.

One of the local manifestations of this international movement in book design and publishing is Little Red Leaves. Little Red Leaves began out of San Marcos, Texas with a collectively-edited journal of writing that takes risks. They also began to publish E-books by innovative writers like Matt Timmons and Yedda Morrison (who used erasure to revive nature in her book Darkness). These E-books are available for free on the website as a PDF or also can be ordered physically through Lulu.

A local Houston writer and book devotée, Dawn Pendergast, pitched the idea to Little Red Leaves last year to do a series of handmade textile chapbooks as part of the LRL line. They took the bait and the rest is happening right now, right here in Houston as Pendergast plays her small part in the micro-publishing revolution with her LRL Textile Series. OffCite sent her some questions to find out what motivates her work, what she’s publishing, and what her thoughts are about the much-heralded demise of the book.

OffCite: How did the idea for LRL Textile Series come about?

Dawn Pendergast: The textile series grew out of a love for technology and chapbooks.

First, chapbooks. I love the form. The length, size, and feel of a chapbook is sort of special/singular/intimate. It’s a little appetizer. It’s a dose. Some poetry chapbooks are intervals on their way to full-length books, others are jaunty little cul-de-sacs. Either way I’m celebrating them in their them-ness, on their own little shelves, sans UPCs.

Not only is the chapbook a wonderful form, but it lends itself to handmade, homegrown, micro-production. Anyone with a printer and a stapler can publish a chapbook. Anyone. My collection reflects lots of different approaches to chapbooks, some traditional letter-pressed beauties and others of the off-the-wall variety (think, bracelet book). I love what the physical book can do to frame your experience of its content.

The odd thing about my love affair with handmade chapbooks is my mutual love for all that is digital. I love my laptop(s), my Kindle, my iPhone. (Yes I do) love reading PDFs. Do I mourn the death of the book? No, I do not. Because most of this dying is already dead. Here’s my thinking: With our ebooks on our e-shelves, our ‘real’ bookcases will no longer sag with row after row of standard sized, glued-together paperbacks. NO! Our future shelves will have/hold only those books that are really books; the ones that embrace their thingness; that explore the page, test its boundaries; the ones that are more than merely text delivery systems.

Off of these ideas bounced the textile series. A series of chapbooks that are comfortable (dowdy even), ramshackle things. My goal was to make something that people would want to hold in their hands. Something that could be passed around. Something both manufactured and made by hand. An ode to the machines that make production possible, to the errors permeating its materiality.

OffCite: What kinds of literature are you drawn to publishing as part of the series? Is there a particular aesthetic or concern in the writing?

Dawn Pendergast: The textile series is an aesthetic stepchild of Little Red Leaves, an annual online journal and ebook series that’s been publishing a range of innovative writing since 2005. LRL textile series is dedicated solely to experimental poetry. Our writers range from established literary figures like Beverly Dahlen to emerging poets like Jamie Townsend. I wish I could describe an overarching aesthetic. We read with our ears and love with our eyes. The writerly, the anti-writerly, the surprising, the concluding, the atoning, the coughing. It’s a very mixed bag. If there’s a principle guiding our selection, it’s probably a power animal like a goat. I love goats.

OffCite: How many books have been published so far? What are the plans for the series going forward?

Dawn Pendergast: The series kicked things off in April of this year with Beverly Dahlen’s A Reading: Birds published in an edition of 50. The chapbook was only offered online and sold out in 3 weeks! We’ve since published a second printing (50) of the book. All runs are 50. There are currently two other books available on the website for purchase or free on-line reading: MATRYOSHKA by Jamie Townsend and An Antenna Called the Body by Sarah Mangold.

We’re also starting to get calls from bookstores and libraries that will begin stocking our little chapbooks. We’ll be posting these locations online.

FYI – The LRL Textile Series is now accepting submissions for their 2012 line of chapbooks. If interested, see here for more information about how to submit.

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      […] Many thanks to John Pluecker and OffCite for featuring an article/interview about our little “micro-revolution.”  Read em and weep. […]