Bite-sized ebooks are a huge trend in mainstream publishing. I've previously written about Byliner, who publish long-form journalism, but there's also Hyperink, who produce short ebooks based on search trends, and Amazon's own Kindle Singles imprint. I personally think the medium has huge potential to be used by poetry publishers: short, cheap books help readers to be more adventurous, and make buying a book of poetry seem less a wild extravagance, more a regular treat. The poetry world as a whole hasn't exactly embraced this new way of working, but a few younger publishers are more enthusiastic, and Floating Wolf Quarterly is among them. I especially love that they're a 'digital first' publisher; 'Print versions of each chapbook are available exclusively from any desktop browser's standard File » Print function.'
Floating Wolf Quarterly's ebooks are equivalent to short pamphlets, and priced at a reasonable £2.14 each. Here's the current selection. Keen to sample their output, I decided to purchase their most recent chapbook, Place of Mind by Richard Blanco.
I wasn't aware of Blanco's reputation as a talented poet who draws on his experience of emigrating from Cuba to Madrid, then to New York, and eventually Miami. He's already produced two critically acclaimed collections, and been featured in a Best American Poetry anthology. This chapbook could be seen as a teaser for his next full collection, due next year, except that it works so well as a thing in itself, managing to create a sense of progression in just nine poems.
Blanco is something of a philanderer when it comes to form, making use of the prose poem, the pantoum, an adapted sestina, and a delicately arranged concrete style, all within such a short space. I think I like him better writing in looser styles; he still connects form and meaning, but in a more subtle way than he does when using established forms, (I thought using a form that returns to the same end words to write about travel was a little crass in all honesty). For instance, in his concrete poem, 'Broken Covenant', the combination of the condensed language and it's floating, free-form presentation makes each phrase seem like a washed up piece of debris; 'a yellow bulldozer/ heaps of spent seagrass.' In his prose poem, 'Key Deer', he manages to achieve a sense of acceleration in his counting down of miles, many-claused sentences and references to a species dying out, 'KEY DEER HABITAT: ONLY 49 DEER REMAINING. Last year there were ninety...'
As someone who is generally not that interested in adapting old forms, but bloody loves pantoums, I was interested to see what Blanco would do with one. I've spent far too many hours of my life composing the things, and have come to the conclusion that there are two ways of approaching that strict pattern of repeating lines. If you want the poem to depict a narrative, however loose, you need to come at it like a great military tactician. Alternately, you can write some interesting lines, place them in the pattern, and see what the juxtapositions suggest. Of course, one of these methods can and should lead on to the other, but I tend to think that one approach has dominated.
Blanco's pantoum, 'Place of Mind' is a meditation I imagine he composed using the second, more spontaneous technique. It's quite disturbing how the muddled repetition of lines suggests such a realistic inner-monologue, (or does to me, at least). The poem addresses the malleability of the 'self' very eloquently, and I was mainly impressed, although I did think one of the lines was a placeholder slotted in to adhere to the repeating pattern. What does 'A breath, a wave--a breath, a wave' mean?
Overall then, Blanco is very nimble in using poetic form to describe drifting from place to place and from self to self. This miniature collection was a perfect introduction to his oeuvre; no doubt I'll investigate further in due course.
Place of Mind by Richard Blanco is available to buy now from the Amazon Kindle Store.