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Poetry Chapbooks for High Schoolers

Have students self-publish their poetry in chapbooks

This will be a short post, but I wanted to briefly fill you in on a culminating activity my high school poetry class completed last spring. Our final project of the year was to create a poetry chapbook, a small(ish) book that contained the many poems they created throughout the year. While we wrote about thirty poems during the year — some focused on a certain structure and some free verse — I required students to choose thirty to include 24 in the book.

This is a typical chapbook by poet James Sweeney. I purchased this chapbook online. I was introduced to Sweeney’s poetry through an email subscription to Poetry Daily.

In case you’re unfamiliar with chapbooks (as I was prior to teaching this class), chapbook is the name used for the book where a poet publishes his or her collections of verse.

Of course, chapbooks vary in size and dimensions, but for my class, I decided to go the easy route and have students create theirs on 8.5″ x 11″-inch paper that I could easily print down the hall in our workroom.

Students had been saving their poems all year in their Google drives, so when it came time to assemble their work, they could easily retrieve their poems, make any additional revisions and edits, and then publish their books.

Here’s another chapbook from one of my favorite poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Students had about thirty poems to sift through and prioritize and include in their books. Those works included free-style poems on a variety of topics (cold water, for example), villanelles, odes, apology poems, list poems, sonnets (challenging, but illuminating!), ekphrastic poems, cinquains, and others.

I suggested to students that they use to design their books. Canva has hundreds of templates to choose from, all with built-in graphics and photos, if students wished to use them. Of course, many students did just that, but several opted to modify the templates and/or the art elements to create a personal statement to complement their unique poetry. Still, one creative student veered away from Canva and designed her entire chapbook using her own hand-drawn illustrations on Microsoft Word.

Several photos of my students’ chapbooks appear below. Enjoy!

I decided to print the chapbook covers on a color copier in the school. I left the interior pages to be printed on a copier in the workroom.

Here are several covers from some of my students’ chapbooks:

This is basically “project-based learning” for a poetry class.

Obviously, collecting this much poetry may require a fully dedicated poetry class. And, fortunately for me, my previous school gave me the green light to pursue this passion of mine to teach poetry appreciation. It was hands down my favorite class I’ve ever taught.

If I were to do chapbooks again…

I would definitely make sure to have students write more poems during the year, so they would have a greater quantity of verse to include in their books. Most professional-level chapbooks contain more than fifty poems, and I would like my students to end a dedicated poetry class with a similar amount of material with which to approach a traditional publisher or agent. I want my students to see how real world writers market and present their work, and to present their work seriously, they will need a collection of substantial breadth.

So, for next time (there’s always next year, isn’t there?!), my poetry students will generate more work overall. I know they’ll appreciate having a slew of poems, so they can select only the very best for their chapbooks.

Thanks for reading!

I wanted to publish this post now at the beginning of January, so you could start putting the plans in motion to enable your own students to have a handful of poems to include in a chapbook of sorts at the end of the year.

Sure, it won’t be a collection from the entire year, but if you teach a semester-long poetry class or have poetry units coming up in your regular classes, think about having students gather them into a brochure-style chapbook as a culminating project. Feel free to ask me any questions about chapbooks by replying to this post below, or leaving a message on my Contact page. Thanks again!

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Treasured Object Poems

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Featured Photo by Dan on Unsplash

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