Reviews: The Diagram/New Michigan Press 2020 Chapbook Series

In sum: An excellent series of objects, beautifully made with quality paper and matte cover stock, perfect bound. A tactile and visual pleasure in terms of type, art, and finish. The series is curated and edited by Ander Monson.

This is not the first time I’ve reviewed work from D/NMP. See here, and here. This is the first time a complete set in the annual series is being examined. Their guidelines suggest that works submitted to their contest be ” coherent—as much a project—as possible. Not to say everything needs to be thematic or narratively related, but most of our winning chapbooks have a feeling of aesthetic unity or resonance: we think chapbooks should make sense as chapbooks, and be more than the sums of their parts.”

In terms of what made this series embody that perplexing, cool DIAGRAM aesthetic, the paramount unifier seems to be voice, with craft at the sentence level a necessity. Every book has at least one particularly knockout sentence or image to linger over. D/NMP does not shun abstraction, making each item open for the brain to packet-switch between broad, particular, and personal interpretation. The five collections definitely have poetry-hybrid genetics. For instance the Bates poetry collection explores autobiography; Gucciardi delivers artisanal and Whitfull offers structural poetry. Goodman/Kalayeh a collaborative curiosity. Brown’s winning text is a long, lyric essay, a hybrid poem on a single subject.

What follows are links to individual reviews for each of the five objects that make up the D/NMP 2020 Chapbook Series.
1. Winner: Blanche Brown, Consider the Oyster.
2. Finalists, in alphabetical order:
Sarah Bates, Tender
Loren Goodman and Pirooz Kalayeh, Shitting on Elves & Other Poems
Benjamin Gucciardi, I Ask My Sister’s Ghost
Patrick Whitfill, Curiosity

★★★★★ = As a series. Fully recommend that others buy it and read it as a set. The five can be purchased directly from the publisher for USD $35+ $5 S&H. Alternatively, can purchase the set as PDFs for $20.

Reviewer’s disclosure: I have and will continue to enter the D/NMP contest (2016, 2017, 2018, 2020). I really like this press, and publication with them is a personal long-term dream. When I first started writing fiction in 2015, it was often recommended that I send things to DIAGRAM. It was great advice. It remains dependably favorite. I have no connection to the press, per se, but have had work published in DIAGRAM, as well as two other Monson projects: March Shredness, and Essay Daily. I had ordered the 2020 Chapbook Series before it occurred to me to review the set, but I’m glad I spent this time and hope it’s of interest to other readers and writers off the beaten path.