Chapbook Round-Up: Climate Crisis and Showbiz Blues

Chapbook Round-Up: Climate Crisis and Showbiz Blues

A preview of chapbooks by Rae Armantrout, Justin Lacour, and James Croal Jackson

None of the poets interviewed for this piece were debut authors. In fact, Rae Armantrout— whose chapbook, Notice, is forthcoming in February— is a prolific and seasoned poet whose work has earned her a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and been a finalist for the National Book Award. However, Armantrout, Justin Lacour, and James Croal Jackson created tight, focused chapbooks that diverge from their previous work. Notice (2024), Lacour’s Hulk Church (2023), and Jackson’s A God You Believed In (2023) use language and subject matter to sustain a specific mood, pursuing an ecstatic truth across 20 to 40 pages, even when it’s bleak or ugly.

by Rae Armantrout
Wesleyan University Press, 40pp., $7.95 (print)

Hulk Church
by Justin Lacour
Belle Point Press, 40pp., $10.95 (print)

A God You Believed In
by James Croal Jackson
Pinhole Poetry, 28pp., C$19.50 (print)

Armantrout’s Notice features selections from the author’s forthcoming 2024 collection, Go Figure, as well as pieces from previous books, including Wobble (2018) and Finalists (2022). Other than sharing an author and publisher, what binds them together? “They all have something to do with [the climate crisis].” The veteran poet told me during our Zoom interview. 

Rae Armantrout, “Notice” (Wesleyan University Press, 2024)
(Wesleyan University Press, 2024)

The inspiration for “Panicle” and “Speculative Fiction” came from Armantrout’s reading habits as well as her longtime residency on the U.S. West Coast. She lived first in California, and currently resides in Washington. “I read a lot of science … science for laypeople … but I started by reading about physics, just because I was fascinated by it, and then I started reading biology.” said Armantrout. “I’ve been close to a lot of wildfires … where there was just ash raining down from the sky and you could actually see the fire from a ridge far in the distance … or not so far.” 

There’s a hushed terror and anticipation in Notice, while still pushing forward her earlier language experiments, as in “Riddance”: 

Ok, we’ve rendered
the rendition

how often?

“A lot of my poems really have to do with human psychology,” said Armantrout, ”of our failure to deal with [climate change], and our failure to come together and take any kind of action aimed toward the future.” The writer shared that, though she’s tried in a few places in the book to emphasize hope, “my mind goes to a dark place.”

Extreme weather also inspired New Orleans native, Justin Lacour, to write his new chapbook, Hulk Church. “We had a bigger than normal hurricane down here two years ago called Hurricane Ida.” Lacour told me. “After that, I felt the desire not only to get my own life back together, but also to try to bring all these things to my writing.” 

Justin Lacour, “Hulk Church” (Belle Point Press, 2023)
Hulk Church
(Belle Point Press, 2023)

Lacour listened  to the music of singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison while working on the poems, as well as taking in the work of deceased Austrian poet, Franz Wright. “I write to music, which some people find insane,” he says, “but I always like to have [it] on if I can.” Hulk Church shares the intimacy and sincerity of those singer-songwriters. This especially comes through in Lacour’s favorite poem; the loving, yet humbling, “Anorexic’s Canticle”: 

Whatever I will drink
myself sick over,
there my treasure lies.

Most of the book is composed of prose poems, with the longest, “Prayer Before Dawn,” reaching five pages. Lacour likes the short chapbook form for its accessibility and how readers can take in the whole work in one sitting. “How you can carry a theme,” he said, “which I think I tried to do with Hulk Church.” 

The writer grapples throughout with how to accept love and the presence of God in the face of crippling self-doubt, addiction, and mental illness. He writes in “Tuesday, 1:12 P.M.”, “Look, I believe Christ will do this again. / He’ll pull me close in the moment of my failure, and I’ll cry saltless tears.” In another of several weekday poems, “Sunday, 10:25 A.M.”, the newly sober speaker is “nearly shatter[ed]” when an old man gives him a kind-hearted sticker. Lacour said this was based on a real experience he had at Sunday service, “It was sad, and it was kind of funny that it really meant something to me that he did this.”

James Croal Jackson’s A God You Believed In is similarly concerned with the soul. The Pinhole Poetry collection considers what happens to the soul of  a person working 12-hour days in an exploitative, indifferent industry. Jackson based what he calls “work poems” on his own experiences working as an extra, and later a production worker, in film and television. 

James Croal Jackson, “A God You Believed In” (Pinhole Poetry, 2023)
A God You Believed In
(Pinhole Poetry, 2023)

In “Bronchitis on the Set of New Girl,” the Speaker sardonically apologizes to TV stars “for coughing / in your proximity between takes.” During a Zoom interview, the poet, now in Pittsburgh, remembered the inspiration, “I was feeling so low, and it was such a bizarre experience,” Jackson said, “standing five feet away from Zooey Deschanel, coughing up a lung and no one caring.” 

Though Jackson wrote the poems over the past decade, he says the collection took only six hours to compile. He acknowledges how this collection felt a little riskier to him. “I’m currently working in the film industry,” Jackson said, “and a lot of my coworkers and colleagues, and people on set, they know what I’m referring to with these situations.” 

Jackson references real television shows, including New Girl and American Rust, in the chapbook’s titles and the poems linger over a general frustration with show business. Despite the recent Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) labor victories, Jackson doesn’t seem optimistic about social change in the studio system.

“Hopefully, we keep moving [forward], but I think the film industry has so much money that not too much is going to change.” Jackson said. “They just wield so much influence and power over culture.” Despite this pessimism, poems like “This Vestibule” and the brief, crushing “An Extinct Fish Watches an Episode of Planet Earth” play wonderfully with sound and voice. They’re as concerned with the apocalypse as they are with moviemaking. 

What advice would you offer to poets publishing their first chapbook?

Rae Armantrout, Notice

“Well, there are a lot of people writing these days as you know … and that’s good, [but] it’s a little bit hard to get attention. A lot of it depends on where you are, and how you position yourself. What it was for me was connecting with friends, connecting with like-minded people, and I think it’s still got to be that to start with.”

Justin Lacour, Hulk Church

“Try to find something compelling and write toward that … the experience I had with Hulk Church was about spirituality and honesty and healing. Trying to write towards that moment, having that theme to tie everything together, makes for some powerful writing.”

Justin Lacour, “Hulk Church”

James Croal Jackson, A God You Believed In

“No need to force a bunch of pieces together. Just write lots of poems that feel true to you and eventually you might look back at your body of writing and see that you have already written a chapbook without knowing it, just needing to be arranged.” 

Author Bio

C.M. Crockford is a writer and editor originally from New Hampshire. He’s the author of two chapbooks of poetry, Adore and Mark The Place, and his debut full-length, Birdsongs, will emerge in March 2024 from Alien Buddha Press. Crockford lives in Philadelphia with his cat Wally.
Find out more at

Front Page header (Volume 1 Issue 1: Jan-Feb 2024)


New Poetry Titles (1/2/24)

Preview new books from Michigan State University Press, Able Muse Press, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Click here to read.

January ‘24: Welcome to Our Beginning

Welcome to the first issue of the Philly Poetry Chapbook Review, January/February 2024! Hear from our editor what we have in store for readers this issue.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/9/24)

Preview new poetry books from Seven Kitchens Press, Milkweed Editions, Bloodaxe Books, W. W. Norton, University of Pittsburgh Press, Phoneme Media, Coffeetown Books, Central Avenue Publishing, and Archipelago.

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Father Figures: Books by Arthur Russell and CooXooEii Black

Aiden Hunt reviews Arthur Russell’s At the Car Wash and CooXooEii Black’s The Morning You Saw a Train of Stars Streaking Across the Sky in this essay, subtitled “Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize live up to the hype?”

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/16/24)

Preview new poetry books from Milkweed Editions, Nightboat Books, Alice James Books, Phoneme Media, University of Arizona Press, The University Press of Kentucky, Madville Publishing, Clare Songbirds Publishing House and Tram Editons.

Click here to read.

Chapbook Round-Up: Climate Crisis and Showbiz Blues

C.M. Crockford interviews poets Rae Armantrout, Justin Lacour, and James Croal Jackson and previews their recently published or forthcoming chapbooks.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/23/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 1/23 and 1/29 from Bottlecap Press, Stanchion Books, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Phoneme Media, Button Poetry, RIZE, Wayne State University Press, Carcanet Press, Fireside Industries and Texas Review Press.

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Violence of Craft: Your Mouth is Moving Backwards by Juliet Cook

Contributor Mike Bagwell explores and reviews poet Juliet Cook’s new chapbook from Ethel Press, Your Mouth is Moving Backwards.

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New Poetry Titles (1/30/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 1/30 and 2/5 from Scribner (Editor’s Pick), Texas Review Press, Bottlecap Press, Kith Books, Slant Books, University of Notre Dame Press, Knopf, Little, Brown and Company, Tupelo Press, LSU Press, Wesleyan University Press, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., Grayson Books and Sourcebooks.

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Review: The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack by Ben Kassoy

Contributor Francesca Leader reviews Ben Kassoy’s debut chapbook from Bottlecap Press, The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack.

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New Poetry Titles (2/6/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 2/6 and 2/13 from Wesleyan University Press, Belle Point Press, Bull City Press, Kith Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Coffee House Press, New Directions, Nightboat Books, CavanKerry Press, University of Queensland Press, Green Writers Press, LSU Press, Haymarket Books, Button Poetry, The University of Kentucky Press, Mercer University Press, Knopf, Persea Books and Peepal Tree Press Ltd.

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February ’24: Of Conferences and Contributors

A note from editor and publisher, Aiden Hunt, about the AWP Conference, re-opening submissions, and looking for more contributors.

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New Poetry Titles (2/13/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 2/13 and 2/19 from Kith Books, GASHER Press, Querencia Press, Bottlecap Press, Alice James Books, Penguin Books, Seagull Books, Mad Creek, Wayne State University Press, Deep Vellum Publishing, University of Chicago Press, The Lilliput Press, Able Muse Press, Washington State University Press, University of New Mexico Press and Mosaic Press.

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Of War’s Seductions & Consequences: A Chapbook Review

Aiden Hunt reviews Amanda Newell’s I Will Pass Even to Acheron in this essay, the second part of his essay, “Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize live up to the hype?”

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New Poetry Titles (2/20/24)

Check out new poetry books for the week of 2/20 from Bottlecap Press, University of Arizona Press, Carnegie Mellon University Press, University of Alberta Press, Nightboat Books, Signature Books, Mosaic Press and Small Harbor Publishing.

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