One of the more intriguing, yet under-read, forms of literature is the chapbook. A staple of popular culture at the outset of the printing press, nowadays, chapbooks are obscure little pieces of writing that don’t quite fit inside the pockets of mainstream publishing. And chapbooks, unlike other shorter manuscript forms like novelettes, poetry, and essays, oftentimes combine a multitude of different various forms. Because of this, the distinction of a chapbook is made, more often than not, from its themes which link its parts into a cohesive unit.
When chapbooks are thoughtfully conceptualized, and artfully weaved together, they stand as a unique commodity in literature that most certainly deserves more attention.
Emily Nemens’ digital chapbook, Butcher Papers (Sibling Rivalry Press), is demonstrative of the power of chapbooks. Nemens blends fiction, prose poetry, essays, and illustrations into a 35 page tightrope performance in which the trapeze artist never loses her footing.
With impeccable balance, Nemens takes readers on a vibrant journey through the New York art scene, through the intersection of butchers and sculptors, through her voyage from the literary elitist community to the Bayou, where she currently serves as the coeditor for one of the most decorated literary magazines in the country, The Southern Review.
It’s hard to categorize each of the eleven pieces within the chapbook without tying it back to the sum of its parts. And that’s exactly what a great chapbook does: it makes even the 78-word nod to old Yankee Stadium seats crucial to the totality of Butcher Papers.
There’s a wondrous lyricism in the prose that harks back to an age when writers toiled with each word choice, acknowledging that, yes, each word does have a meaning, and if you are to use one, you better have a reason for doing so.
Most impressively, Nemens is able to connect these stories in a way that makes the reader feel as if they have read something with a far larger scope than can possibly be included in the confines of an hour’s worth of text.
In this short span, Nemens proves herself as an exemplary prose stylist who can seemingly excel in fiction, essays, or memoir.
Whether discussing influences and ambitions, or signifying events that have brought her to this point in her life, Nemens maintains complete control over the stories that she tells. She accomplishes more in this brief piece of writing than many do in a full-length book.
Emily Nemens’ Butcher Papers is a chapbook for anyone who cares deeply for language and art. Available for digital download for the small price of $3 from Sibling Rivalry Press, Butcher Papers is a graceful examination of what we hold near and dear to our hearts.
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