15 Years of Chapbook Publication, 16 Years of Anthology Publication


THE HUDSON VALLEY WRITERS' CENTER
SLEEPY HOLLOW, NEW YORK

THE NEWSLETTER OF SLAPERING HOL PRESS

 

"A Day in October," from David Tucker's Days When Nothing Happens, winner of the 2003 chapbook competition.


Excerpt below from a talk Margo Stever, Co-editor of Slapering Hol Press recently gave to Elaine Sexton's class on chapbooks in the Center for Continuing Education at Sarah Lawrence College.

 

 

Issue 3, October 2006

 

OUR READING SERIES
IS ON 2nd FRIDAYS
AT THE WRITERS' CENTER

See Calendar for info


CONGRATULATIONS to Mary Kaiser, winner of the 2006 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Contest for Falling into Velázquez

CONGRATULATIONS to finalists in the 2006 Slapering Hol Chapbook Contest:
Megan Harlan for Multiverse
Kathleen Hellen for Skin and Bones, I May Be Japanese
Jennifer Perrine for Time and Song Enough

See our next issues for excerpts from these chapbooks.



A DAY IN OCTOBER

By David Tucker

That quick kiss
when we passed on the stairs
too busy to speak.

That movement at the window—
something brushing
the dogwood branch, gone
when I turned to look.

That car coasting past the house,
someone at the wheel,
looking this way.

That sudden rain at lunch time,
the scarecrow in the distant field
holding on to its flapping coat
saying, “Don’t forget me!”

That love-making in the late
afternoon, the slow giving in
to each other.

That quiet at midnight,
reading in bed together--
something moving
at the window again, then gone.

 


photo: David TuckerDavid Tucker won the 2005 Bakeless Prize for poetry; his book, Late for Work, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine, was just published by Houghton Mifflin and includes this poem, from his prize-winning chapbook for Slapering Hol Press, Days When Nothing Happens. His poems have appeared in dozens of magazines, most recently Atlanta Review and Mississippi Review. He is a Deputy Managing editor at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey and part of the team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.

 

 


SLAPERING HOL PRESS AND THE CHAPBOOK CRAZE

By Margo Stever

Chapbook as a Genre

The chapbook has garnered recent attention in the poetry community due to important initiatives such as the Poetry Society of America’s new series for emerging poets and Elaine Sexton’s new website, www.chapbookfinder.com. With the chapbook’s birth as a pamphlet covering the news or trivia of the day and, carried under chaps or saddle flaps from place to place, this genre has historically been an underrepresented form, part of the underground. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, peddled by itinerants or “chapmen,” the short selections of popular tales, romances, and ballads sold for a few pennies. The chapbook has always been a small opportunity to say something, to bring the news, to a small audience.

On the one hand, we would not want the chapbook to be discovered and become part of the mainstream any more than we would want our favorite secret vacation spot reported on by The New York Times. On the other, with the advent of the computer and on-line publishing, the chapbook, like every other form of published writing, is in danger of becoming extinct. The types and kinds of chapbooks that exist, and the challenges they present, are innumerable. A distinct form determined by its length and resulting structural requirements that can produce a work more concisely wrought, more crisply to the point than a longer poetry collection, the chapbook is to a book-length poetry collection as chamber music is to a symphony.

Experience as a Poet

As a way of understanding what led me to publishing chapbooks and founding the Slapering Hol Press, (the small press imprint of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center), I want to share a few glimpses of my own past. After graduating from high school where I was interested in literature but didn’t consider myself a poet, I managed to enroll in Denise Levertov’s poetry workshop as a freshman in college. Because she particularly wanted to work with science students, Denise was teaching at MIT. Although I didn’t qualify in this category, she fortunately allowed me to take her workshop. Probably more than any, that experience changed the course of my life.

A poet and essayist, Denise shared with me and most other workshop members a passionate involvement in the Vietnam era anti-war movement. We met in each other’s apartments and dorm rooms; we hawked poetry on the streets, read at demonstrations and in obscure Cambridge bookstores. We were arrested together, spent the night in jail together, went to trial together. We went on vacations together. Denise published a chapbook, A New Year’s Garland, in which she placed a poem about every member of our workshop, and then she put all the poems in one of her books, Footprints. She helped us publish our first work in a magazine, Hanging Loose. For the cover of her book, Relearning the Alphabet, Denise chose one of my photographs taken during the Harvard Strike of students occupying University Hall who peered out of a window at a crowd of students looking in. She thought the shape of the photograph looked like some mysterious letter of an unknown alphabet. Denise became a lifelong friend.

During the early seventies, as a staff assistant to a U.S. Senator in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to witness the growth of a writing community. Poet friends used to tell me that D.C. was the cultural equivalent of Siberia. With not much going on related to poetry, the city merely seemed to be a repository of art. When I moved away and then back to D.C. in the late 1970s, a renaissance had occurred, with fiction and poetry readings all over town. The D.C. writing community was not stratified as that of New York, but a place where people were genuinely interested in reading and sharing work. The Writer’s Center, at that time located within the former Glen Echo Amusement Park, seemed to have had something to do with this evolution.

After moving to Westchester County with my family in the early 80s, I wanted more than anything to start a press. While I was unable to locate any funding opportunities for that purpose, I did discover a grant that could be applied to developing the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series, the precursor of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. In 1982, after receiving a $3000 decentralization grant from the Westchester Arts Council, I worked on the initial reading series with Pat Farewell, a poet who was familiar with the literary territory of Westchester County. We held our first readings at the Warner Library in Tarrytown. In 1986, I enrolled in the Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) MFA Program in Poetry. Stephanie Strickland and Anneliese Wagner, both poets associated with SLC, were among those who were instrumental in the founding of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center (www.writerscenter.org) and the Slapering Hol Press, the Center’s small press imprint.

We took on the project of restoring the Philipse Manor Railroad Station that became the home base for the Center’s reading and workshop series, and from the beginning, we established outreach programs such as the Comprehensive Literacy Project that operated for over a decade within the Coachman Family Center, a homeless shelter in White Plains. In 1988, Donald Stever, my husband and an attorney, wrote the legal documents that enabled us to expand the Sleepy Hollow Poetry series and incorporate as The Hudson Writers’ Center (HVWC). In 1990, almost ten years later, with the help of Anneliese Wagner, Pat Farewell, and Stephanie Strickland, we succeeded in publishing our first collection of poetry, Voices from the River, an anthology including selected poems by poets who had read in the Writers’ Center reading series. The Slapering Hol Press (SHP) was finally born. The name, Sleepy Hollow, was already taken for the press of another local nonprofit, Historic Hudson Valley, so our press assumed the name Slapering Hol, an old Dutch version of Sleepy Hollow. From the beginning, our specialty was to be the publication of chapbooks for poets who have not previously published in book form.

Competition

Many poetry publications, including chapbooks, are the product of judged competitions. Significant issues relating to these contests have arisen in the last few years. The tendency for the small world to reward its own has created a stringent examination of rules. Too often contests become opportunities for judges to reward friends or students. Assuring anonymity insures a fair contest.

For close to two decades, the Slapering Hol Press has conducted an annual competition, publishing 500 copies of the winning chapbook. Under our current guidelines, upon receipt of manuscripts for the SHP competition, we remove all references to the submitters’ names and the acknowledgements pages. All of our contest readers are published poets. Many have published books, and almost all now serve on the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Board. If a reader recognizes poetry in any manuscript, she is honor bound to give it to another reader. Those manuscripts that the readers believe are publishable are passed along to the editors for the final decision.

During the early years of the SHP contest, we chose a guest editor to serve as the final judge. This strategy not only allowed the SHP editors to honor especially admired well known poets, but also garnered the additional attention that their literary acclaim conferred to the contest. Furthermore, the SHP co-editors were insulated from complaints sometimes received from poets whose work was not chosen. We invited poets such as Denise Levertov, Dennis Nurkse, and Billy Collins to choose the winning chapbook. After a consultancy with Coffee House Press several years ago, in order to create our own editorial identity, we decided to judge the contest ourselves, and we terminated the guest editor program.

Experience as Editor and Slapering Hol Press

With a simple yet elegant design, SHP’s first chapbook, the anthology Voices from the River (1990), featured some favorite poems by established and soon-to-become luminaries who had read at the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series. With poems by Hayden Carruth, Jean Valentine, Dana Gioia, Billy Collins, Stephanie Strickland, Kate Knapp Johnson, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Toi Derricotte, Stephen Dunn, Denise Duhamel, and many others, Voices from the River, set the standard for chapbooks to come.

Soon after, Stephanie Strickland, a Sarah Lawrence MFA graduate, librarian, and long-time Hudson Valley Writers’ Center Board member, joined SHP as Co-editor, a role in which she served for more than a decade. Stephanie, who has subsequently published five books and chapbooks and has won numerous poetry awards, added her unique vision and strengths to the selection process. She is an editor with a graphic holistic view who also pays absolute attention to detail. Another poet, editor, translator, and teacher from Sarah Lawrence College, Anneliese Wagner, also became an invaluable and long-time member of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center Board and a key figure in the early years of the Slapering Hol Press.

From the publication of the second chapbook, Note for a Missing Friend, by Dina Ben-Lev, the SHP was firmly established as one of only a handful of small presses to publish the work of poets who had not previously published in book form. The SHP continued to publish occasional anthologies that also featured emerging poets. Each year, the SHP publishes the most outstanding manuscript out of an average of around 320 submissions. For me, perhaps the most exciting aspect of serving as SHP co-editor is the opportunity to provide a small stepping stone for young and emerging poets, and to marvel at the growth of their careers after the publication of their chapbook.

Among the many notable achievements of SHP authors, Dina Ben-Lev (Rhoden) went on to earn an NEA fellowship, publish a second chapbook, and win a national contest for her first full-length book, Double Helix. Rachel Loden, author of our 1997 chapbook, The Last Campaign, subsequently was awarded the 1998 Contemporary Poetry Series Competition from the University of Georgia Press for the publication of her first book, Hotel Imperium, later named one of the ten best poetry books of 2000 by the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. Containing her chapbook poems, Hotel Imperium was also listed (with books by Adrienne Rich, Michael McClure, and Philip Levine) for the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award. David Tucker, the 2003 SHP contest winner and author of Days When Nothing Happens, was awarded the Bakeless Literary Prize by the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. Tucker’s Late for Work was recently released by Houghton Mifflin.

For Stephanie Strickland’s standing-room only chapbook panel presentation about the Slapering Hol Press, at the 2004 Associated Writing Programs Conference in Chicago, we polled our authors to find out what getting published meant to them. Each author stated that the SHP chapbook publication had invaluably assisted their work as poets in many dramatic ways. For instance, Paul-Victor Winters (Muscle and Bone, 1995) said, “I think that the chapbook earned me the teaching fellowship that has allowed me to go to graduate school.” Sondra Upham (Freight, 2000) stated, “The best thing that happened was that Paul Zimmer reviewed Freight in the Georgia Review… Having my chapbook published changed my life. It made me believe in myself as a writer, and gave me credibility as a poet in the schools.”

The challenge for the Slapering Hol Press is to publish the best, most artistic chapbook. Our literary interests are eclectic. The editors traditionally take part in extensive discussions with each chapbook winner. At times, we have asked for additions or deletions of poems, reordering, grammatical changes, and suggestions for rewrites. In short, we perform the traditional services of literary editors. Assistant managing editor for metro news at the New Jersey Star Ledger, and one of the reporters on the Gov. James McGreevey resignation that garnered a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting, David Tucker said about the SHP, “the editing is painstaking and thoughtful and sometimes drove me crazy, which is the way it ought to be…The same standards hold for production; the slim little books they do at Slapering Hol are understated and elegant and, as with everything else they do, professional.”

The choice of the designer is a critical one for the chapbook editor and publisher. As Lynn McGee, SHP’s 1996 chapbook competition winner stated, “Bonanza looks like a book that a publisher really took seriously. It looks more rich, with that contrasting matte and foil cover, than many perfect-bound volumes out of big publishing companies.”

Several years into our production cycle, we consulted about chapbook design and production with Robert Creeley, who served as a member of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center Advisory Board. He eloquently stressed the importance of choosing type and design that showcase the text, the poetry, without creating distraction with what I will term "ornamentalism". While Bob was not opposed to using visual elements or experimenting with different designers or design, he strenuously emphasized the written text as the most significant element. After our discussions with Creeley, we changed from stapling to hand-sewing and switched to a different designer, Dave Wofford, of Horse and Buggy Press in North Carolina. His publications are included in such places as the Rare Book Room of the New York Public Library and in the Vatican.

Efforts to create a community through The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center have rippled into the publication of many of our chapbooks. Inspired by her witness of 9/11, Susan Case, Professor of Behavior Sciences, New York Institute of Technology (as Susan Gray), put together The Scottish Café (2002), a collection of poems bringing to life key figures in the legendary Polish School of Mathematics in Lvov, Poland, during the 1930s and early 1940s. The Scottish Café depicts the lives of intellectuals who created their foundational theories at the Scottish Café when they were barred from universities by the Third Reich. The design of the chapbook is similar to the Scottish Book containing the theories that the scholars buried in a soccer field for safekeeping. As Charles Martin stated, “By recalling with celebratory job, the vigor, the messiness, the courage of life as it was once lived in a terrible time by the mathematicians at the Scottish Café in Lvov, these poems do us a very great service.”

Partially translated into Polish and fully translated into Ukranian, The Scottish Café’s poems are already published in numerous foreign literary magazines. This chapbook is now found in many libraries as well as Yad Vashem in Israel and the Hebrew Union College in New York City. As Susan puts it, “In my wildest fantasies, I never imagined any of my poems in foreign languages. And of all countries—Ukraine and Poland—these were two of the three places that my grandparents fled from around the turn of the century. The realization that these poems had touched people in a place so far away…in these particular places, was jolting. It was like a reconciliation…It was a way that, even though my grandparents were dead, they were returning home.”

A few years ago, after Stephanie Strickland retired from the SHP to devote her full energy to writing and teaching, Ann Lauinger, an award-winning poet and long-time colleague on the Literature Faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, joined SHP as Co-editor. We also created the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Board (see www.writerscenter.org for advisory board list) which consists of poets, writers, and people versed in organizational development. Although we have never manifested gender bias in our selection process, it is interesting to note that our current SHP Advisory Board and even the HVWC staff are solely comprised of women.

Although chapbook authors are always the most effective force in selling their chapbooks, SHP’s distribution also takes place through our Writers’ Center website, www.writerscenter.org, which Maureen Hatch, our HVWC Associate Director, and Dare Thompson, HVWC Executive Director, have masterfully created. With their able assistance, we sell chapbooks at poetry readings, book fairs, benefits, and through amazon.com. Small Press Distribution (SPD) recently agreed to be a distributor for SHP publictions. Slapering Hol Press chapbooks have been reviewed three times by the illustrious Paul Zimmer in the Georgia Review. Our authors also received reviews in many other literary journals such as Booklist, Calapooya Collage, The North American Review, Gin Bender, and Book/Mark.

With the mission of providing an audience for emerging poets and those connected to the SHP, the Slapering Hol Press has created a literary reading series which currently takes place at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center (see www.writerscenter.org for details) on the second Friday of the month. The series resumed this September. We also hold an annual Slapering Hol Press reading for our authors at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. Some additional new initiatives include this on-line quarterly newsletter, the Newsletter of Slapering Hol Press, edited by Susan Case, with news of SHP authors, upcoming readings, and other related information. The SHP has organized a number of readings for SHP authors and Advisory Board members in established New York poetry venues such as The Ear Inn, Cornelia Street Café, and the Yorkville Poetry Series.

Because mainstream publishers rarely afford the possibility, chapbook and book contests sponsored by honorable small and university presses provide unmatchable opportunities for poets to get their first work published. Despite its relatively miniscule size, for nearly two decades, the Slapering Hol Press has brought to light emerging talent whose diverse themes of survival and hope cross cultures. On a foundation of aesthetic quality, the SHP has earned a solid reputation and sustained an enduring tradition of discovering strong voices in contemporary poetry.


photo of Margo Stever by Mark SadanMargo Stever’s Frozen Spring won the 2002 Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Reading the Night Sky, won the 1996 Riverstone Press Chapbook Competition. Her poems and essays have appeared in the New England Review, West Branch, Connecticut Review, Rattapallax, and elsewhere. She is the founding editor of the Slapering Hol Press.

Photo by Mark Sadan

 

 

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