Category Archives: chap review

Small Subway Explosions: On “Ten More Poems” by James Hoff


Ten More Poems by James Hoff, printed by Ugly Duckling Presse, turned out to be a delightful read that interacted with its form in a way that made me feel as though I was uncovering someone’s manuscript that they left on the train. I suppose that all chapbooks must feel this way: they usually contain the thoughts of a passionate and thoughtful individual and are wrapped/designed/printed in a way that should make them feel like a walk through another person’s head. The ideology behind this chapbook makes this observation especially true. The content reveals a person who is riding on the subway or stopping to talk to people on the street of a big city. It reveals a certain cynicism about large cities and the suburbs that often surround them, and it especially conveys disdain for people who spend their money inappropriately. Why not give your money to a homeless man, but instead spend your money on a red sports car to park in front of your one-story home in the suburbs? He poses the question in one of the first poems: “Why do street lamps not line the sea?” It’s a cynical look at how big cities try to plan out every corner of the city to the last detail when cities will always have parts that are as untouchable as the sea.

Hoff uses form in a way that makes the chapbook a quick read. He even inserts “Intermission” poems that are shorter and sweeter than the rest. For example, “Intermission No. 4” is simply: “Linda shouted Heck / for the hell of it / Texas.” These give the reader an “Aha” moment amidst vaguer and more specific works. The “aha” moment that readers often get from chapbooks is understandable. As a reader of chapbooks, one expects a certain fluidity in the works and a sense of wholeness when one finishes. Ten More Poems achieves this extremely well. When you are done, you feel as though you understand big cities from the eyes of an attentive observer.

As far as the structure of the actual book goes, the brown paper cover heightens the “found on the subway” feel, and the typeface, letter pressed, a lovely typewriter font, makes the works inside feel deeply personal and are reminiscent of writers who move to a big city to write freelance and instead find a cold, unfriendly writing community. It is easy to convince yourself that, because you are typing on a typewriter, the work that you produce has to be good. It’s the organic, writerly feel that young writers crave in their work. It’s the principle that if you don’t feel like you’re creating something and can’t see a tangible product, then you’re not creating anything. The cherry on top of this chapbook are the bright red stamps that appear on the cover, a car surrounded by sparkling light, and the hand drawn on the back cover which appear to be a broken hanger and chicken scratch. I am glad to have read this wonderful, well-put together and well-written book, which appears to embody the essence of the term “chapbook.”

-Summer Upchurch


Review of Cover Band by Michael Trammell

Cover Band, a chapbook by Michael Tramell published by New Black Mountain Press, is deceptively simple in design and content.  The cover is made out of brown cardstock and is adorned only with a simple record graphic.  The pages are gray. The stitch is a sort of modified loop stitch, bound with one simple knot.  I was completely drawn in by this design.  At times, it is perhaps better to allow a book to be basic, unadorned—sometimes that is the most beautiful type of book.  Certainly that is the case here.  Additionally, the design matches up well with the content, which is direct and conversational. 
            In the first story, “Cool,” Trammell describes a night playing in a cover band at a dive bar, including the patrons, “cement stains on their jean’s knees.”  This struck me as such an amazing detail.  With basic prose, Trammell creates an entire world which unfolds from a wonderfully rendered phrase.  Towards the end of the story, the characters’ places of employment are listed—“Subs-D-lux, Hale Carpet, Tex Roofing.”  He needs not emote about the importance of this one escape for these men.  We understand that this is their passion, not the jobs listed.  Trammell again gives the reader a sense of the characters with one apt detail. 
            The first and last stories both end with a late night/very early morning breakfast at Denny’s.  This is exactly what these stories feel like—late night conversations.  They retain a sense of craft, however, that I doubt is a usual feature of such conversations.  Trammell never falls into clichés, though his topic (the potential for escape or reinvention through music or art more generally) has certainly been covered.  He provides new eyes. 
            Personally, I think the standout story is “Ballet in the Band,” in which the narrator’s brother, a ballet dancer, joins the band and becomes an embodiment of that most fundamental element of rock—lust.  After he plays his Strat, he performs “a perfect arabesque” and falls “into the glassy-eyed nymphs who catch and clutch all they can.”  The women in this poem are so enamored by the dancer/rocker, who is the perfect sort of David Bowie (or even early Mick Jagger) androgynous sex icon.  He is swaggeringly graceful, brutally gorgeous. 
            In “Maple Leaf Rag,” the narrator describes playing a piano loud enough to drown out his father’s clapping in time.  He plays “until the claps are gone.”  The relationship between father and son becomes so important here.  Though we know little to nothing about this relationship, there is an identifiable tension in that line.  Something fundamental and recognizable is at work in all of these poems. 
            I highly recommend this chapbook.  The design works in tandem with the prose to create a finely crafted object, a wonderful reading experience, and a memorable book.  Trammell has harnessed the striving of the weekend rock star perfectly.  He encapsulates the raw sexuality of the musician as well as the 3:30 A.M. still-up-drunk -over-waffles humanity of him. 

-Kyle Dennan

A Mutual Understanding: A Review of The Black Telephone

Coming into Slash Pine, I had no idea what a chapbook was. After an entire semester as an intern for a press that prints chapbooks, I still did not have a concrete definition. Maybe that is my partiality toward novels, or prose in general, and Slash Pine typically prints poetry, but I finally had the idea to look up the definition of ‘chapbook.’ According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is “a small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by pedlars; North American a small paper-covered booklet, typically containing poems or fiction.” Now that I feel that I understand what a chapbook is, I feel better prepared to offer a review of one.

The Black Telephone by Kari Larson is a beautiful chapbook published by Unthinkable Creatures, a chapbook press based out of Gainesville, Florida. This is the first chapbook that I have read that I did not have a hand in making, and it was quite refreshing to see work done by other people.

The first thing that caught my attention about this chapbook was the cover. As I mentioned, this book is beautiful, but not only in content. The cover is a lovely cream color with a delicate background photo and striking fonts. The black glitter outlining the photo is a wonderful design choice, and it is even more beautiful in person than it was on the website from which I purchased it. Then you open the book, and you find a black page between the cover and title page. It contrasts well against the cream cover and stark, white paper. The pages of the chapbook are very smooth, and they are much thinner than the cardstock cover. The font on the inside of the chapbook looks like “Arial Narrow,” and it works well with the overall design of the book. The book is bound by unwaxed, black thread using the simple saddle-stitch, but instead of tying the thread on the inside of the book, the thread is tied and the tail is on the outside of this chapbook. I really love the black thread binding, but I wonder if there could have been a more decorative knot, perhaps even a bow, made for the tail, since it is on the outside of the book.

Just looking at the cover or glancing at the title gave me no indication of what this book was going to say. So, without further adieu, I began to read The Black Telephone by Kari Larson. Right away I felt connected to the narrator, which is a vital part of my pleasure while reading. When I came across the lines, “I don’t want to implicate someone, so I would go as far as I could to give them their own experience that they won’t doubt the veracity of and keep them out of mine. But I will frighten them, I will make them concerned for me,” on page two, I knew that I was under the spell of this narrator. I needed to hear everything that she had to say. This chapbook shows a side of depression that is difficult to convey; it reminds me of British playwright Sarah Kane. I would argue that this chapbook would function as a wonderful introduction or even companion to Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. I would highly recommend this chapbook to anyone, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse at the beauty behind the madness.

-Amber Brown


I have recently developed a new appreciation for an old art form. Hand-stitched chapbooks are a beautiful way to express creative works. I love knowing that someone once touched pages, marked with familiar words, and wondered what kind of hands would touch the same pages in the future. I wonder the same thing when I press pages with a whale bone and bind the spine with a needle and thread.

Today, I am holding a Projective Industries chapbook. It arrived in a sandpaper-colored cd mailer. Inside the mailer, the chapbook had been wrapped in turquoise tissue paper and finished off with a pastel green inch-wide paper closure. I would have felt the need to unwrap it delicately; however, my husband was the one to open it. I just watched blankly because neither of us realized that it was intended for me. He unceremoniously ripped off the little closure and crumpled the tissue paper in one hand before throwing it to the floor. He flipped through the book briefly with a confused look on his face.

“Ah. This must be yours,” he said, before handing it over.

I felt slightly robbed of the opportunity to open something, but I got over that quickly at the prospect of inspecting my new book.

ImageThe cover is 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches and gray-scaled. Tiny horizontal lines overlay a sketch of what I believe to be a map, or clouds. The title, displayed on the cover, reads Novel. It turns out to be a dust jacket. Nice. The flip side of the jacket is a bigger version of the map/cloud cover design sans title. The interior cover is black. Two sections are stitched together with a dark reddish-brown thread in a simple stitch with two loops per section. The jacket is glued to the edge of the back interior cover. The fact that it was glued bothered me at first, but I convinced myself that this is for my own good. This will prevent me from losing the dust jacket, which I will inevitably do otherwise.Well played Projective Industries- well played.

Lucy Ives is the author of Novel. The work begins with a quote from George Oppen. “Written structure /Shape of art /More formal” led me to believe that the intentions would be evident in the format of the poems. The format was inconsistent throughout, but purposeful within each respective section. I am assuming this was a stylistic choice by Ives and not an error by the chapbook editors.

Ives writes with an aversion to cohesion. However, she doesn’t seem to thrive on chaos like some of her contemporaries. The language is soft, yet unromantic. Her overall approach is confusing, but there is something simple and intriguing in the delivery. I would recommend this chapbook if you like more abstract poetry. 

For this chapbook, or to view an array of other hand-stitched chapbooks by Projective Industries, please visit


—Debra Logan


Megan Gannon’s The Witches Index:  Spells, Incantations, Poems from Sweet Publications feels like it should: an earthy, mystical, and intimate.  Gannon’s chapbook is simultaneously delicate and sturdy in design.  The brown cover stock is thick and dark.  It almost looks like a leather bound book.  To continue with the idea of an old, leather bound book, the cover text is pressed with a shimmering, gold ink.  The font is a delicate script, and the moth on the cover invokes a nature-y sense.  The stitch, which is what caught my eye on the sale table in the first place, is an open stitch with a woven, spiral twist.  The thread, thick and smooth, loops through the book and ends with a long tail serving as a bookmark.  The design of the book is the dream of every chapbook artist.  It’s edgy and interesting while remaining simplistic.  It keeps the DIY feel while showing true craftsmanship.  Inside, the design remains delicate and professional.  The transparent spacing page doesn’t feel like a piece of tissue paper in front of a graduation announcement.  Printed on it, again, is the moth and an epigraph from the Salem Witchcraft Papers.  Turning this page feels as though one is opening up a sacred text.  I must also note the text font of the book: Perpetua.  We at Slash Pine are currently having something my friend Alexandra describes as a “love affair” with the font, so I was happy to see the elegant, clean font used in the chapbook. 

The book matches its design.  Gannon’s elegant, intimate poems are all titled as spells.  There are what I would consider more conventional ideas of spells, such as the “Housekeeping Spell” and “Amnesia Spell,” as well as spells named after female authors and poets, like “Brontë Spell” and “Dickinson Spell.”  Gannon plays with form throughout the chapbook.  She uses line spacing and interesting shapes for each poem.  The forms are all extremely functional for each poem.  Her last poem in the collection, “Spell to Reconcile Warning Wills,” is a poem for two voices.  After reading the author’s note, I felt silly.  These poems feel like spells, even though the subject matter may not be, so I should have been reading them aloud the whole time.  Right?  I went back and read aloud all of the poems.  While some are more difficult to read aloud (See “Sappho Spell”), the poems share a lyrical voice throughout that is vulnerable, intimate, and strong, as all good spells should be.   

You can (and should) find Gannon’s book from Sweet Publications.  Read it alone in bed at night.  Read it aloud.  Listen to Gannon’s spells, and enjoy the intimacy of the chapbook.  

Ordering info:


–Laura Flowers

From my town to Chi-Town

To be honest, as we mini-vanned our way into gut of the city that Thursday night I could have cared less about the big buildings with their highfalutin, sweet potato lights shining down through the fog and making me think I’d fallen asleep in a bowl of casserole. We were bumpin’ Kanye’s Monster and Colin was rapping his heart out side by sonic side with the esteemed Mrs. Minaj when we sidled up to the curb outside apartment 2222 (every number had a buddy). The first face I saw was Rachel’s—bouncing down the sidewalk, smiling like her face wasn’t big enough for all the happy. And then Al, Spence, and Marie on the stoop each waiting with a gangster lean on a big stone frame and a firm handhug (in the case of Marie a real hug ‘cause who shakes hands with a girl?) that seemed to say, “Welcome back.”

Slash Pine and Shotgun join forces to stitch “Tongues on the Tracks”!!!

You see, we Slash Piners and them Shotgunners (the press they started after we introduced them to the supreme fun of stitching was called Shotgun Press) had created a space all our own. And the trip to Chicago felt less like a journey to a foreign land and more like a return to this shared space that we carried around with us like a hamster ball (us, of course, being hamsters in said ball). As is customary, we frittered away the first night with a fine fusion of frivolity and foetry (shit, I mean poetry). The following day we made history live on radio and then rode a train in a catawampus circle. While aboard, I had Spence explain to me the finer points of eye contact etiquette as well as what to keep an eye out for whilst window gazing (apparently he’s seen a couple of folks in the nudie nude). The next day we combed the sidewalks, and I couldn’t help but notice the difference in pace between us Southern folks who are used to moseying through thick heat and the Chicagoans who walk with the wind. On our walk, Al and I bandied about the idea of getting an apartment together if I end up calling that place home, which is probably what’ll happen.

Tourist shot in THE BEAN!!!

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. The only real mark I’d left on the city was a splash of spit on a pigeon’s wing and a nose smudge on gigantic, shiny bean. However, if the mark my presence left on them city folks was half the mark they left on me, then that would still be a good-sized mark as far as marks go. Seriously though, I feel such a deep connection with those people. Through getting to know them, I have realized just what a fantastic and instructive bond creative writing can foster. Perhaps because the act of writing can make us feel so isolated and the presentation so vulnerable that when these acts are shared and are the thread that binds a group of nutty little scribblers together, the trust and red, white, and blue lurve that develop run deep.

-Will Gillette

An Encounter with Altitude: A Non Sequiter

When Kansas came to visit us Slash Piners, each group knew approximately one thing about the other group. I’m not sure what Kansas knew about us Alabamians (although I have a few guesses), but I know that we knew that the Kansanians lived in a land without altitude. The other thing we knew? We only had a week to plan a totally awesome whirlwind of writing, bonding, and poetry reading. If anyone ever wanted to know how such a thing is done, I can say that all it takes is a little knowledge of space and a lot of knowledge about people. So, we set to work trying to draw meaning from the relationship between high and low lands, and, understandably, with Slash Pine’s natural inclinations toward space-making we thought it would be fun to take the altitude-deprived Kansanians to a mountain, make them walk around a lot and talk to us a little, and hopefully gain some sense of communion with some like-minded, poetry-lovin’, outdoorsy people from across the nation.

If I learned anything from this exchange, it was that I am NOT a special snowflake, which I was told by Kansas’s teacher/mentor Megan Kaminski when I insinuated that geocachers (who I have lots more respect for after our failed attempt to find a geocache per-instruction to follow a path while vaguely having to “look down and then up”) might not appreciate opening a box full of undergraduate poetry after a similarly long trek through the wilderness. I choose to interpret her comment to mean that spatial distance between people does not create interpretive walls between them. It applies to both the people in our exchanges and “mugglers,” a geocaching term, meaning: people who are not geocachers and steal things that geocachers work hard to place so that only other geocachers can find them. I think it’s important to not forget the mugglers of the world– the people who we writers assume have no desire to understand writerly doings. In this way, we remember that we are most certainly NOT special snowflakes, but that all snowflakes are special and so none of them are. Writers didn’t get the way they are by being special, they got that way by wanting to be special.

A great exchange requires a commitment to immediate openness and a will to accept the weirdness that inevitably comes when writers interact. I think after Chicago, Kansas, AND Fairhope, Slash Piners have developed more than enough moxy to be able to do both successfully. We’re practically world travelers by now. And our experiences have led us into more strange situations than I’ve entered into in (probably) my last 5 years of life. Seeing Joseph Wood bathing mermaid-like under a waterfall in the middle of the landscape of the greatest altitude Alabama has to offer with the sun coming down in all the right places through the trees is an image I’ll never forget. Slowly, intrepid Slash Piners and Kansanians alike became bold and forewent heavier articles of clothing to be able to plunge into the freezing cold waters. I couldn’t help but look at us all, suddenly, as a full-fledged group of special snowflakes, being young instead of writers and being people instead of Alabamians, Slash Piners, or Kansanians, each individual slowly becoming entrenched in the fabric of each others lives and becomingone giantic, spectacularly special snowflake.

-Summer Upchurch

From Chicago to Alabama: an Exchange Story

 We first met at the Civil rights museum, both sides nervous but eager to accept and communicate. They were all strikingly good looking, and I was immediately struck by the impulse to correct my posture and extend my warmest smile.  I had never before heard of a student exchange. Two schools swap students to meet, greet, and otherwise exchange ideas. I knew there would be writing. I knew there would be a reading in which I would be required to bare my soul to the world. And of course, there would be the ever-present conceptualization of space.

                As we browsed the opening exhibit, I thanked the heavens that we had some external form of stimulation to discuss.  Meeting people can be exhausting.   As the exhibits led from domestic artifacts to a darker room of translucent portraits hung from the ceiling and foreboding against the backdrop of white-hooded, white-men, the tone deepened.  I was weighed down by ancestral, white- guilt; I regretted bringing them here. They were unfamiliar with the South, and we chose to bring them here? In planning the itinerary, I tagged the Civil Rights Museum as a historic blurb before we got down to the business of literary conversation, but it was a gut-wrenching reminder of our cultural heritage, our shameful past, and the constant struggle for equality.  I guess our visit to the Civil Rights Museum set the tone for honesty. We confessed the worst of our Southern culture before showing off our cuisine, our campus, and ourselves.

                On the car ride home, one of the DePaul Students  remarked that the Birmingham city and highway landscape was similar to his home in Cleveland, and his home in Chicago. “How quickly we homogenize”  He said. It is true that cities across America are similar. The differences are in the details.  How do you dress, where do you go at night, what do you feel when you are surrounded by people?  There are city dwellers vs. suburbanites, East vs. West, North vs. South, and all the overlays that comprise a place.  I cannot think of a better way to experience a city than by communing with the locals.  Although I was not able to experience Chicago this way as of yet, the chance is not lost! Perhaps in August I’ll tag along with Katarina to Lollapalooza. I can look forward to more conversations of place, of space, and of beginnings within!

 The exchange experience as done by Slashpine is one of the most genuine informal ways to learn about the heart of a city: its people.  If it had a tourist-travel-pack modeled after it, I would recommend it.  I had the opportunity to host four of the kindest people I have ever met, and for this, I am grateful.

Rebecca Cape 

Stitching and Talking and Swimming and Reading and Boy, Do I Love Slash Pine!

By the time we went to Fairhope, the Slash Piners had become a family of sorts.  You know those really weird, loud families you see at the mall, and you always roll your eyes at them as they pass you?  That’s us.  We went for a conference put on by the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers, and though we went mainly for work and educational purposes, it felt a lot like a vacation.  We went to the bay every night, and even when we were goofing off, it seemed like the conversations always circled back to writing.  Our first full day started bright and early.  We went to a panel in the morning to hear a reading.  Not to speak for the group, but I believe our favorite writer in the panel was a girl named Josie from the University of New Orleans.  Her essay was amazing.  I loved getting to hear writers from outside of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham read their work.  After the reading, we went to Fort Morgan to explore and write.  Fort Morgan is a beautiful historic site, and my favorite part about the space was the little amphitheaters inside the fort.  While sitting in there, Patti read for us (BEST READING EVER), and then we wrote for an hour or so.  I enjoyed having a free writing session instead of having a prompt.  We all took turns reading after the hour, and later left for the hotel.  The next day we led a panel on stitching chapbooks.  We had a decent crowd for the panel, and everyone loved it.  We stitched copies of Be the Heat, and every participant took home a copy (or two!) that they stitched themselves.  I really loved being able to meet new people that were really interested in talking about who we are and what we do in Slash Pine.  The panel went over incredibly well.  We also went to a panel on undergraduates as editors that was led by the folks running Pegasus, a literary magazine out of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC).  It was really interesting, and we later went out for lunch with the students from ABAC.  Our conversations were mostly on authors we loved and what we wrote.  It was a great experience to get to meet them.  We also had a panel where we read our work with some of the MFA students from UA, and it was a wonderful reading.  Overall, I think my favorite part of our trip to Fairhope was growing closer to the other interns.  It was so much fun being with them for a few days to just hang out and go to an awesome conference (and sing showtunes in the van).

-Laura Flowers


Greying Ghost Press released Josh Russell’s Pretend You’ll Do It Again late last year.  The chapbook’s sleek design has a certain edge about it that drew me in immediately.  The brown cardstock cover recalls cardboard boxes and moving, but I particularly liked the hand-stamped gun in the center of the cover.  Shooting out of it is a circle (red or yellow depending on the edition), with the title overlapping itself. The title page’s font is lighter and elegant which is a nice contrast to the cover. Inside, there are repurposed maps with pastels yellows and blues and deep reds that match the red inserts at the beginning.  Many of the stories have a sense of arrival or departure, and the maps help convey this sense.

One of my favorite things about this chapbook is that Russell’s work is mostly flash fiction.  As one of the few prose writers in Slash Pine, I really appreciate finding a chapbook that isn’t poetry—especially one with a high caliber of work.  Russell has a strong voice throughout that takes the reader into concrete places like the foyer of a daughter coming home with her new lesbian girlfriend, or more abstract places of the mind like the recollection of prom or the hardships of growing up in a rural area.  The title comes from my favorite piece in the chapbook, “Advice.”  It’s one of those pieces that place you in a situation rather than a place.  Russell gives advice to couples on their way to make love for the last time, and the advice is simple.  Don’t focus on this being the last time, but “pretend you’ll do it again.”  The language provides beautiful twists that haunt the reader days later. 

I only had one issue with Russell’s chapbook, and the issue is mainly just my personal design taste.  The chapbook is staple-bound, and while it is extremely effective, I prefer hand-stitched chapbooks.  They’re more personal, and I feel more of a connection with the stitcher than I do with a person stapling books.  I understand that stapling allows for time to be saved, though, so this isn’t a huge issue.

Russell’s Pretend You’ll Do It Again is a wonderful chapbook, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful, punching language and stories that cause one to smirk often.  You can check out the book here:

-Laura Flowers