Edited by William Allegrezza
Moria Books, 2017
In January, William Allegrezza, publisher of Moria Books
, announced a new chapbook imprint, locofo chaps
, to create 100 chapbooks during the new Administration's first 100 days. I thought then that his distress over the new President's policies must be so deep that he risked doing the unthinkable: even he doubted that he would receive enough chaps in that time frame to protest against the new President. But Allegrezza obviously isn't the only poet troubled by the politics and policies — not to mention linguistic debasement — by those newly in Washington. At the time of this writing, he has published 86 chaps with more on their way. Several of these chapbooks also are anthologies, thus representing more than one individual poet. Allegrezza has also recently announced that he will to continue publishing if he receives more than a hundred chapbooks, a turnaround from his initial thoughts that the idea may not become realized.
With hindsight, locofo chaps'
success is not surprising. While its genius is partly based on a sufficient number of poets participating in the project, locofo chaps
also contains strong conceptual underpinnings. A key is Allegrezza's plan (already underway) for the locofo chaps
to be sent to the President himself. It was this facet of his plan that grabbed my attention when I first learned of the series, for it elevates the project beyond being only about publishing. Sending the chapbooks to the White House means that locofo chaps
is de facto creating literature's own protest rally.
Literature's own protest rally — that's ingenious. If the new President "does not read," to quote from a common charge tossed at him, then literature can be another constituent that protests at its erasure or marginalization, just like immigrants, refugees, transgenders, women, and others who have felt attacked by the administration. Thus, does literature protest. Thus, do (chap)books protest.
It is uncertain whether the President will read the chapbooks; they may even be trashed. But — and this is part of the beauty of the idea — for the White House to ignore or destroy these works will not make the project fail. The chapbooks being tossed into the circular files would run a similar trajectory to protests and rallies in front of the White House as they end and people return to their homes; their acts have nonetheless been witnessed and discussed, and there can and will be results. Someone's first participation in such a rally, for instance, might be inspiring, ennobling, or encouraging enough for this individual to continue with more action, both protest marches and beyond. locofo chaps
has already generated one example of this effect: after the poet Aileen Cassinetto released and designed three of her chapbooks and designed two others through the imprint, she was encouraged to become a publisher, too, and recently inaugurated her new press, PALOMA PRESS
As history shows, protest actions matter. Their effects can be individual or as part of a collective action. The receipt of a hundred poetry chaps might be insignificant, if it is, but as part of a larger series of protest actions those chaps also contribute to an exponential effect displaying resistance. Related — and key — to this effect is the structure of locofo chaps: the chaps are available for purchase as print publications, but they also can be read for free from the publisher's website. In other words, the White House tossing these chaps into the trash can will not erase their existence, and their effects are generated before and after the President receives his own copies — in the same way activism creates the build-up to, and actions after, each protest.
There is concept, and there is manifestation. In addition to looking at locofo chaps'
underlying conceptualization, it is appropriate to look at the content of the generated chapbooks. Here, we see that one of the advantages of a collection of a hundred chapbooks is that it allows for a diversity of participant authors as well as literary styles. This result reflects the publisher's prescience in coloring the locofo
logo in the LGBTQ community's "rainbow" colors of diversity, acceptance and inclusion. Among locofo chaps'
authors are women, minorities, immigrants, and people who identify as gender non-binary, as well as citizens/residents of non-U.S. countries including the Philippines, South Africa, Australia, Sweden and New Zealand.
As one may imagine, many of the works were created in response to developments during the administration's early days, such as Stephen Russell's Occupy the Inaugural
; from his piece "Campaign Promises" —
There's a trick to standing behind podiums:
Clearing the throat like a lover unable to propose,
Adjusting one's posture until the most maudlin speech
Burns with the rich smell of truth.
Wave as the crowd surrounds you:
Your confidence, poise: feel it?
Other chapbooks contain older work recontextualized to be protest collections in response to the new President's policies or their effects, such as Christine Stoddard's CHICA/MUJER
, with its very first line from "La Hija Mixta in Spanish Class" —
Where did you learn to speak Spanish so well?
is effective because it proves — in diverse ways — how its premise of being "politically-oriented," as Allegrezza phrases it, is not reason for didactic or banal work. There are the to-be-expected narrative poetry, as can be found Agnes Marton's The Beast Turns Me Into a Tantrumbeast
, yet Marton's poems take a sly approach toward several Trumpian ills, such as how "Migration" critiques the "alternative facts" propounded by the President and his surrogates:
What if they betray me too,
those celestial cues?
What if the sun lies
like everyone else
and so does the earth's magnetic field?
What if there is no such thing as home,
or it's just big enough for sedentary birds?
The series also offers many conceptually-based projects such as Bill Lavender's brilliant La Police
which addresses its theme through "Policy," "Politics," "Photography," and "Language." The collection provides an educational history of police:
The word did not take on its current meaning as a
collective noun until 1797 when a group of London
merchants pooled funds to hire a band of hooligans
to prevent theft of their inventory from the docks,
mostly by their own employees. They armed the group
with clubs and called them The Police. This metonymy
would have sounded a lot like "The Policy" would
sound to us now, perhaps even with the same tinge
of dark humor. This initial band of 50 men saved the
merchants hundreds of thousands in theft prevention,
and in 1800 the City of London transformed them from
a private to a public organization. The Thames River
Police is now the oldest public police organization
in the world.
is like many other chapbooks not overtly addressing — but nonetheless indisputably addressing — the new administration. This is also found in Marthe Reed's Data Primer
, which confronts the anthropocene and the likely effects of an administration's indifference to environmental protection, and poeticizes a conclusion from a scientific analysis:
Reed, in the above excerpt, visually shows words in whole and then "losing mass" as the poem unfolds, using technical strategy to parallel its content.
Another example of effective conceptualization, and one that is coupled with moving lyrics, is Andrew and Donora A. Rihn's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: An Election Cycle
. As presented by its title and a line from "Pastoral" — "We got married the day before the election" — the chapbook contains poems written as newlyweds. From "Les Temoins":
When we fell in love, you said
I had changed the composition
of the sky. Now we sit
side by side in our booth
at Denny's, newly married, watching
election results tally like sins
While our coffee grows cold.
and from "Benediction":
We had broken into
this bonfire feet first.
I didn't even know
the meaning of risk
until you laid hands upon me,
bandaging my scars and
soothing my ragged tongue
There's a saying, "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." The message here can be found in the chapbook series as a whole, but particularly within Steve Klepetar's How Fascism Comes to America
It's November 2016 and now I think
about my mother in Prague
after 1939, wearing a yellow star,
and walking a circuitous route
to avoid the streets forbidden to Jews.
Imagine a country where this
could happen, a powerful army who hates you,
your property stolen, your home
wrenched away and occupied.
At night you and your mother go out
to the garden to burn the communist
propaganda your sister left behind
when she fled, the smoke rising in thin,
gray wisps in a city you once called home.
Many points of view, many poetic styles, and many types of authors are represented in locofo chaps
. The existence of these poets and their works both critiques and undermines an administration that attacks language, attacks difference, that attacks the weak, that attacks. There is news in these poems and it is dire. But, ultimately, the biggest news is the existence of resistance — a resistance that proclaims, to quote the title of Michael Vander Does' chapbook — We Are Not Going Away