What I Think About When I Think About Mimeo

(Quoting-from-articles-I-wrote-and-also-from-interviews-with-two-writers-whose-work-I-admire catch-up post, five of five.)

The present-day poetry chapbook has a complex ancestry; its relations include, but are certainly not limited to, photocopied zines of the ’80s and ’90s, mimeographed literary journals of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, small-edition books made with cheap letterpress machines abandoned by the printing industry in the midcentury switch to offset lithography, the Russian Samizdat movement, the Beats, the Dadaists, Walt Whitman, Ben Franklin, and the chapmen of earlier eras who hawked cheap paper entertainments on the street. No matter how rich the history, however, it is still possible for an aspiring poet to be not only ignorant of that history, but to be completely unaware that chapbooks exist nowadays. Murphy says that when he first encountered the work of, say, T.S. Eliot in the imposing Norton Anthology of English Literature, the writing had an aura of impenetrability about it. But when he first came across an old chapbook, Thomas Merton’s Tears of the Blind Lions, published by New Directions in 1949, it was “a revelation.” The object itself “humanized” the work contained therein, Murphy says. “It was very easy to get a sense that someone made this.”

—”Ryan Murphy’s One-Shots: Discovering the Real Work of Poetry,” Poets & Writers, September/October 2006