I welcome a certain amount of collaboration when I work on a chapbook. The authors I work with are upbeat—happy to be published and to receive a check for $1,000 from The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. Besides, I have always thought poets in this un-poetry American culture deserve cordial service. Of course, I have no objection to doing the whole thing myself if the winning poet wants me to.
Here is an example of interaction from American Libretto. Danielle Cadena Duelen’s poems fit on 8 ½" x 11" sheets, but with the standard 6" x 9" chapbook page we prefer, a good many of them required two pages, moving our ideal 32-36 pages up to 48. So I sent her a pair of samples, 6" x 9" and 6" x 10" pages, and asked for her preference. She liked the longer one and so did I, though I hadn’t told her that. Back to 36 pages. I think her longer page balances the poems better.
In my third decade of designing books, I still go about creating each as a unique enterprise. I do have two personal rules, Richman’s Rules of Poetry Design, one absolute and one relative. Absolute, NO BOLD. Bold is for selling groceries! Using bold fonts for titles, as many designers do, suggests a reader’s dilemma: Oh, where could the title be for this poem? I don’t seem to see it. Why couldn’t the designer put it where . . . Oh, now I see it, up at the top of the page!
My relative rule is based on an analogy, title as head, poem as body. How would you like it if whoever designed you had put your head four or five inches left of center? You’d get used to it, I suppose, but for kissing and sex it might be a little awkward. It’s awkward on the page, in my opinion. Putting titles flush left is sometimes best, though. For example, if poems in a collection have wildly varying line lengths, centered titles call attention to themselves and look wrong.
The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review authors often enjoy creating their own covers or call upon an artist friend. Meanwhile I work the text in WORD, choosing fonts that support the author’s tone, expanding and contracting letter spacing and line spacing so that poems settle in comfortably on the page. Sometimes this fine tuning occurs dozens of times on a page, as it did with Danielle’s line breaks in her Montaigne poems.
Her chapbook, opening our 25th anniversary year, had to be as good as I could make it. I have tried to give my best to all the chapbooks I’ve done—including all of The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review winners. The fact that The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review is a volunteer project, subsidized by the volunteers and by reading fees but not by a college or university, gives me great pleasure, a sense of finding, cherishing, and passing on the words that build meaning, that will last a while, like good barns and yurts and owner-built houses.