≡ Menu





This is how terrible of a reader I can be: didn’t even think to look up “perdendo” or “perdendosi” until after I’d read this chapbook at least four times, the first two in quick succession immediately after it arrived. Not that it’s necessary to define every little thing in a book or poem, or so I feel; but the title is that much more fitting knowing that these brothers are named after, if not actually, a manifestation of loss, or at least the musical term for a fade out. The Brothers of Loss, things fading away.

This might have been more accurately titled The Brothers Perdendo and Perdendosi and their Father, as far as the literal ongoings within as the dichotomous distinction between the two halves set them up next to the father as if they were a single entity. We read their experience, and a few soliloquies from the father, and loss operates in tandem, theirs the royal “we” though this automatically connotes their individuality. Their names are so similar, and roots of the same gerund, to fade out in the face of their father. In Rilievo, the musical command is to become louder, to “stand out over the ensemble”.

Really I should have seen it all, though it is late in the chapbook that Trimboli basically spells out his thesis:

 Two different time signatures,

my father in the center talking loudly


to himself. Lights all around him.

He is dressed like a seven-year old boy.

He will not take his costume off,

even after he has gone home.

Families are baked in with the potential for discordance, a mess in the making. What are boys to learn from a father who never grew up? They raise themselves, and their father, in the process. Though there are limits.

Ultimately it’s a stressful cacophony to live under. As Trimboli indicates, “Our father was coal at the bottom / of the ocean. We named him In Rilievo, / / his voice a brash horn.” The father didn’t exist until found, and then named as the equivalent of an orchestral drama queen. But they did the naming, knowing coal’s potential for escalation.

The Brothers Perdendo and Perdendosi deals directly loss in the wake of an irreconcilable father. It’s further appropriate when we consider how the poems themselves fade out, as the musical definition of “perdendosi” commands. Which isn’t to say they aren’t gratifying or unfinished, but rather they weave throughout each other with such open expression. These verses thrive in quick structures, usually fewer than ten lines and alternating between two conjoined books stitched together with no other directive in reading. Page by page as if mirroring each other, one after the other, right to left or vice versa, this chapbook is built to be remixed through reading.

It’s the kind of setup that could drag itself into tedium if not done carefully, concisely, and in the frame of this chapbook, necessitated by the disintegrating emotions expressed therein. Multiple readings are subtly encouraged but no one experience gains ground over another. And really each line sings with such vulnerable vigor, title-less, divvied up by page as the only indication of where one fades out and another fades in.

That’s the surface poetics at work, wrapping up these short pieces as sublimely poetic, musical, and layered. But it’s more than an exercise in cross-genre ekphrasis. Trimboli’s well-wrought lines sway, graceful with their weight, are best self-described: “an orchestra of small insanities held together with catgut.”

Butch Geography
by Stacey Waite
Tupelo Press
ISBN: 978-1-937797-25-7
Paperback, $16.95, 72p

“God made gender a plaything.”—Stacey Waite

Butch Geography is the first full-length book of poetry from Stacey Waite, award-winning author of three chapbooks and assistant professor of gender studies and creative writing at the University of Nebraska. The poems of Butch Geography explore gender as a role and gender as a body. In a voice both lyrical and narrative, they attempt placement and identification, and are both the reflection and the act of locating and understanding the other in our midst. But Waite isn’t trying for the diagnostic or the definitive. We see in these poems the conundrum of the human animal: as others try to place us—figure us out—we are trying to place ourselves, too. And in our efforts are all gradations of grace, error, and exasperation. By looking at the questions of gender Waite is able to ask the questions of self. As the title eludes, we are creatures who need guidance, who depend on our ability to navigate complexity and difficulty by reading maps and its indicators. Translated to the body, both physical and social, our attempts to know ourselves and the other are not so different, and often as problematic.

Several poems appear in Butch Geography entitled “Dear Gender.” This series ignites then sustains the momentum of the book, for these poems—some of the most uninhibited in the collection—grapple with the primary source of being and its relentless, impossible question: who am I? “Gender, I want you to turn me to chain. / I want to bleed you out without dying.” There is desire for constancy, for static nature, despite the contradiction of human fluidity, “bleeding” evocative of this, evocative of one wanting to reject that which gives life. And in another poem in the series: “Gender, rise out, an exorcism, from our too-scared skin. // Let us make the sounds we were never meant to make.” Is this not also a task of the poet, to exorcise with sound? Waite succeeds in the task, by creating a narrative arrangement that aids and allows space for the more concentrated, emotional movements in the book. So many things are done well in Butch Geography, and simultaneously, it’s staggering. And disarming. Waite’s dexterity with line and language, the confident movement between lyric and narrative, invokes faithfulness in the reader. We will follow this voice anywhere. “She knows better / than to cry so spits again. She learns / to live in halves.”

A map is useless, ambiguous, without names, boundaries, intonation, and direction. Despite a map’s simplification of landscapes—and therefore our simplified understanding of those landscapes—they help us navigate the strange and the unfamiliar. They also guide us efficiently through known roads. But we shouldn’t come to understand the map as authoritative. We must honor the landscape, foremost. Otherwise, we risk dogma, the naïve dependence on systems. “The doctor looks mostly at his chart. He wants me to disappear, to put back in order his faith in the system of things. He wants me to react correctly, to be ashamed.” The human animal, its body, and its idea of body are always in flux, “alive and inevitable.” Knowing this maybe doesn’t give us control or power, but better, a sense of empathy. We can see the other as strange and in that strangeness, see ourselves. “I carry this to our bed, / where each night the body / loses its memory, and / for a moment, is able to give.” This is not to be understated. Memory’s influence is startling and often upsetting. How are we to know and care for our own bodies when they are so infused with memories that bring shame and confusion? Is a body not geographical—a map of memory, impulse, and synaptic response? Waite is refreshingly, albeit cautiously, hopeful. “…survival, the anthem / of those places we’ve always been.”

The poems of Butch Geography are subversive, deconstructive of culturally dominant paradigms, but they also challenge our individual response to those paradigms, prodding readers to examine our own constructions as well. Waite moves us beyond one-dimensional stereotypes and pigeonholes. The people populating these poems are intensely human. Through a voice that is at once humorous, poignant, and tragic, we are offered an enriched way to see each other.

Let the poems of Butch Geography be a guide. Waite, with generous hospitality and rare humility, will lead you into intimate and unfamiliar landscapes, and once there will help you see yourself in the strange.

There is a considerable amount of contention over the true source of the word “chapbook.” Scholars of Anglo-Saxon history and language contend that the prefix “chap-” is derived from the ancient word “ceap,” while others maintain it is merely a corruption of “cheap;” however, most attribute the word’s popularity to the chapman—European peddler, reporter, and rogue-of-all-trades from the 16th to at least the 18th century. During the intervening years, the chapbook morphed in size and intention to its modern form: a slim, inexpensive poetry volume of interest to casual readers and avid collectors alike.

Since the Middle Ages, the chapman had been a vital link between the rural towns and hamlets of the European countryside and the rest of the “civilized” world. Criminals though some may have been (some chapmen were reported to have been moonlighting as pickpockets and highwaymen), they nevertheless brought every manner of household necessity in their packs: sewing kits, ribbon, small tools, ink, and assorted miscellany. The chapman’s skills also included reportage, as inhabitants of each town were relatively isolated and lusted for news and entertainment from the outside world.

As time wore on, the public’s tastes began to shift. In 1693, England repealed the Act of 1662, which had placed strict limitations on the number of Master Printers in the country; as a result, the publishing trade began to expand by leaps and bounds. The late 17th century also saw the rise of “charity schools”–educational institutions readily available to the poor and working classes—throughout Europe, greatly increasing the literacy rate across the continent. By 1700, chapmen had begun to carry small books and pamphlets of less than 20 pages with them, costing one or two pennies apiece and containing every kind of popular literature, entertainment and reference material required by the rural masses. For their part, the masses seemed to have developed a voracious appetite for reading—several tears after the publication of The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine reported that a cheap version was highly in demand across Scotland and in varying parts of England, recommending that small print runs be made in country presses to satisfy the reading public. Commoners now had the resources to establish libraries of their own.

The lure of these chapbooks was not merely due to their inexpensive price. A typical chapbook could contain information about any number of things: travel almanacs and tales of adventure in far-off lands; household guides; reference materials on religion, superstition, and the occult; bardic collections of songs, jokes, and riddles, the direct predecessors of the Elizabethan jest-book; and, often, tales of romance, comedy, drama, and sundry works of prose fiction. Without copyright law or any way to enforce such a thing, however, piracy was a commonplace problem. Often, woodcuts and chunks of copy would be lifted directly from one chapbook and deposited into another, then sold by a rival publisher in a different area of the country. Not that the customers minded; as long as the chapbooks were made available at low prices, the originality of their content was rarely (if ever) called into question.

Ultimately, the chapman and his sack of supplies and books went the way of the dinosaur, and the chapbook—in its original form, at any rate—went with him. The Industrial Revolution brought drastic change to Europe in many different forms, not least of which were the laws banning public solicitation and hawking of wares—laws which almost single-handedly put chapmen out of business themselves. Advances in printing presses made newspapers much easier to produce, reducing the demand for cheap reference guides. Readers across the globe began to shift their allegiance to the novel as a more accepted form for popular literature. For all these reasons and countless more, chapmen could no longer make a living and chapbooks were no longer the coveted resources they had once been. For some time, they languished, as Victor Neuberg put it, in “a barely tolerated existence in the form of comic postcards…in the windows of stationers’ shops”.

When a majority dismisses something as useless, however, a minority will often pop up nevertheless to force it back into usefulness. In the early 20th century, the chapbook was revitalized as a tool of the offbeat Dada movement and avant-garde artists in Russia to make their art and messages more widely heard. Though the chapman was no longer a valid means of distribution, the concept of a cheaply printed book that could be made readily available for lower classes with small purses held an undeniable appeal.

That appeal was not lost on the American Beat poets of the 1950s and 60s, who were themselves poor and without access to high-quality printing apparatuses. As was the case so long ago, however, the draw was not merely financial; there was certainly something to be said for the idea of printing short pieces of writing in a similarly small format. Using mimeograph machines and the cheapest paper and cardstock available, the beats were able to present their often obtuse verse in more easily-digestable chunks. Though they were longer than their old European ancestors, often clocking in at just under 50 or 60 pages, the price was still right for young beatniks and members of the counterculture. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was originally published in this manner—a small, square, black-and-white volume with great ambition but no grandeur. The modern poetry chapbook had been born.

As the decades passed, further advances in technology allowed these new chapbooks to be produced in an ever-expanding variety of ways. Soon, mimeographs had been rendered obsolete by public copy centers, which were eventually made irrelevant themselves by the advent of commonly available digital printing. In the age of the Internet, we have seen the rise of “online chapbooks,” which are not proper “books” at all, but rather collections of poetry of comparable length to most print chapbooks of previous years but only available for viewing on the Web. In cases such as these, the issue of cost has sometimes been done away with altogether, producing an egalitarian chapbook made specifically for public consumption as a way of popularizing the poet’s work. Though the original chapbooks may be out of favor today, their mutated grandchildren are celebrated by poets and their fans worldwide.

While the content and methods of production of chapbooks has changed wildly, their bindings have changed even more so. The publishers of the first chapbooks had thrift ever in the forefront of their minds, and it showed in their binding. Most consisted of a single twelve-page signature, loosely sewn together, occasionally with a moderately stiff paper cover attached for a bit of added protection. Sometimes, the books went entirely unbound, remaining simple collections of folded paper. The poor, after all, would buy whatever was made available to them.

Today, however, we enjoy many more options when considering how our chapbooks shall be constructed. The most common chapbooks are still single-signature affairs, which can be mass-produced with only a cardstock cover and two staples along the crease. (A saddle- or long-necked stapler can be used.) This is the most cost- and time-effective method of contemporary chapbook manufacturing. Should a more classical and durable aesthetic be desired, there is always the option of classic saddle-stitch binding, wherein the signature is sewn together along the crease rather than stapled. This method is more time-consuming, but produces a product that may be more durable  than simple stapling.

If a spine is required or desired for the finished product (especially when there are multiple signatures), the publisher may opt to just have the chapbook Perfect-bound. In this case, after the signature(s) is/are compiled and arranged together, the folded edges are machine-cut roughly and then rubbed in hot glue, after which they are immediately stuffed into their paper cover. Though impractical for self-publishers, this is an attractive option for those who can afford large publishing machinery, as the process can be completely automated with little fuss, eliminating human error and increasing profit.

Chapbooks are now one of the most widely-accepted forms in which contemporary poetry is published. The prolific combination of desktop publishing programs and high-quality digital printing has struck millions of people with the ability to affordably publish a small book of poetry, prose, or anything else they desire (though poetry chapbooks have dominated the field for decades). Some chapbooks are issued in limited runs, often signed in the case of more famous writers, for collectors and devotees. This has led to a lively trade in antiquarian and modern collectable chapbooks, and today these slender tomes are appreciated by readers of every class—something the simple chapman, peddling his wares through the English countryside, would have thought ridiculous so many centuries ago.

Who to Tell

Who to tell no one cares when no one cares
No one takes the time to care for a monster

I care for monsters
But only because I am one

I go in the dark house
With the ghosts
And the ghosts take my coat off
The junkies

The other man sits slumped in the chair
Is he dead yet?
I do not know

I know that no one cares about anything
I do know that the dressing room
Is drab and grey

And my pink patterned dress
Looks ridiculous against something so truthful

Wildness is not sadness
The wilderness is not sad
It is naked

I am not
If only because
Decomposition is
Not nudity

Who to tell this?
Who do I tell when no one cares

I did not expect them to
I did not expect them to care
I am not mad

I’m not mad any longer
People eat tomatoes
People eat bread

I am a monster
I eat life

But only because I am losing mine
Into a horrible void
That for you is only an idea

I once felt better about things
I once felt better about things
When the blankness was just an idea
Like the way you still think of it

Still I don’t think love is an idea
I don’t think compassion is an idea
I don’t think babies are born out of loneliness
I don’t think the sea is cold

I only think it is cool
Cool cool sea
Blue-green mystery
Mysterious fish

If only I had been born
A fish
Instead of a monster

If only the water were my only home
I would swim so quietly
I would not say hello to you
I would no longer be sad

I would still be me though
And I would not let you catch me
For your dinner

And when you wanted to eat me for your dinner
I would disappear

Dorothea Lasky is the author of AWE, Black Life, and the forthcoming Thunderbird, all from Wave Books. She is also the author of several chapbooks, including Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). She currently lives in NYC and can be found online here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Schwartzwald