Tag Archives: City Lights

Bookstores, bookstores everywhere

Yet, so many of them are not worth walking into…

There are however, those few gems where you could unfurl your swag and spend the night (no, let’s make that nights). My good friend, Cindy Keong, is currently somewhere over the Tasman, on her way home from San Francisco and a visit to what has to be one of the finest bookstores in the world, City Lights. This place is on my must visit list, as without this store, I may never have picked up a pencil to write. The literature that it has published or inspired has been more than influential. Check out some of Cindy’s photos at her blog. Can’t wait to hear her stories…

And if I was to go on a bookstore tour of the world, these two stores would definitely make my itinerary:


Shakespeare & Company (Paris, France)

Opened by George Whitman in 1951 after a conversation with his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (founder of City Lights), Shakespeare and Company has been a hub of creativity and a gathering place for the likes of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg. A visit to their events page will most certainly have you wishing you were just around the corner…


Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen (Maastricht)

Described by many as ‘Gods own bookshop’, this place has got to be in the running for the most beautiful bookstore. Located in a radically redesigned 800 year old Dominican Church. They certainly don’t build bookstores like that over here…

I would also add Collected Works  to my must see list for anyone in the world, as if it’s poetry you want, then this place is as good as it gets! And if you want a bookstore owner who knows his stuff… then Kris Hemensley is your man. I always make my yearly pilgrimage…

And as I am off to Sydney, I must also give Gleebooks a mention. This is one of the many great indedependent bookstores in this country and again, it has an extensive poetry collection, so I always walk out the door a few dollars lighter.

Speaking of Sydney… I must be off to pack.


Filed under discussions

Jumping the Poetic Hurdle


Sadly today, it would often be easier to buy a book on permaculture, knitting or bee keping than it would be to buy a collection of Contemporary Australian poetry and although these are all worthwhile pursuits, I can’t help asking the question, “how has poetry publication & distribution reached such a low point?”

Right now there are many interesting and reputable practising poets, yet few of them can enjoy an expectation of their poetry being published, distributed and reaching a wider audience. Poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia.

Over the next few months, I plan to speak with editors, poets and you… the reading audience to try and create some discussion about the challenges facing poetry publication and distribution in 21st Century Australia.

First up, let’s take an historical look at one of the methods independent publishers have used to try and keep poetry in the public eye – the chapbook. This is part of an article co-written by David Stavanger, first published in Writing QLD (July 2008)


If you want to buy, I’m your chap!”

This was the cry of the chapman, itinerant pedlars and hawkers, who cheerfully sold anything, including printed ephemera, or chapbooks, at fairs and markets, on street corners, or by traveling door-to-door. Such chapbooks, generally consisted of a single sheet of paper, folded and simply stitched to make a small book of between eight and thirty-two pages. They were crudely fashioned and definitively coverless, but in the early 1500’s they moved our pre-print, oral culture forward and quite literally, made the word flesh.

From the 16th to the 19th century, the chapbook flourished as a locus of popular culture, poetry, religion, myth and story. Many of these ‘penny dreadfuls’, were looked upon as dangerous by the political and religious authorities, as they were a means of distributing radical ideas. The chapbook was not confined to the English speaking world and the phenomenon spread throughout Italy, Spain, France, Germany and China, becoming a vehicle for the democratisation of folklore and the melding of myth and imagination across national divides. Many would argue the chapbook is responsible for recognising the value and power of reading, regardless of class.

In the late 19th century, the popularity of the chapbook began to wane. The passing of laws banning hawking and singing in the streets put the chapman out of business; new print technologies, the rise of the novel and the popularisation of the newspaper, all contributed to their decline, but it was not long until the chapbook found its place in the burgeoning world of contemporary poetry. Pamphlets distributed by the international Dada movement and elegantly designed works of Russian avant-garde poets set a new standard. The second coming of the chapbook continued on through to the establishment of City Lights book store in San Francisco and the publication of the internationally renowned Pocket Poets series, which took the popularity of the chapbook to new heights.

In Australia, the Gargoyle Poetry series (Makar Press) saw many of our finest contemporary poets such as John Tranter, Shelton Lea and Billy Jones published and widely distributed, some for the first time. The Wagtail series (Picaro Press) continues to publish high-quality, affordable poetry chapbooks and set the benchmark alongside productions from publishers such as PressPress, Sweetwater Press, Post Pressed and Small Change Press.

Whether it be self-published zines, studiously hand stitched, letter-pressed works or works published in conjunction with a reading series or to fund tours, the chapbook continues to occupy a crucial space in the publication of poetry worldwide.


Gordon, Noah Eli. Considering Chapbooks: A Brief History of the Little Book. Jacket 34, October, 2007.

Shepard, Leslie. The History of Street Literature. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree Press, 1973.

Morton, Chris. A Pleasant History of Chapbooks. The Books Blog. January 4, 2007


Filed under poetry & publishing