JackPine provides support, collaboration to create ‘beautiful and unusual’ chapbooks

Saskatoon-based publisher’s board considers each project’s unique needs

Publishing poetry is a world within a world. Some consider poetry as close to visual art as can be found in literature. Saskatoon’s JackPine Press takes poetry (and some prose) even closer by publishing chapbooks in which the melding of form and function, words and design, is virtually seamless.

A chapbook from JackPine is a piece of art on its own before the reader even takes in the first word. The text informs the design of the book, and each publication is a limited edition, making it a sought-after commodity, a high-end literary collectible meant to be read, viewed, and treasured.

JackPine Press was founded in 2002 by a devoted group of poets and publishers – Tim Lilburn, Sheri Benning, Jennifer Still, Heather Benning, Rosalie Benning, and Helen Marzolf – and has since published more than 70 hand-bound chapbooks written and designed by Canadian creators. It is currently run as a non-profit organization with an executive board and an editorial board of volunteers.

While predominantly a poetry press, JackPine will also consider excellent prose that fits within the limits of a chapbook (typically 10 to 48 pages). Short fiction, memoir, comics, and essays are all possible.

Recent publications include Intimacies, poems and photographs by Michelle Poirier Brown, designed by Patrice Snopkowski, and Lines of Demarcation, pandemic-influenced poems about societal divisions, by Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, with a map for navigating the poems by Brendan Lorber. Past publications have been recognized by the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design and the bpNichol Chapbook Award.

Delane Just, the current executive director, is enthusiastic about the work that JackPine does. She says the publisher is “all about bringing a creative chapbook vision to life! The more inventive and creative the project, the more intrigued we are! We love chapbook concepts that seamlessly blend visual/physical design concepts with beautiful poetry or prose.”

Aimee Martens, a member of the executive board of directors, explains how the press makes these creative projects happen. “We create opportunities for poets and artists to make unique handmade chapbooks themselves. Submissions selected receive funding, editing help, coaching, advice, and other support from our board members.”

This blend of support and autonomy is not typical of most publishers. JackPine Press, however, is not a typical publisher but a board-driven organization, with each volunteer bringing something different to the table. That collaborative effort unfolds every time they work together.

“Every project is the board coming together, working through that project’s unique needs, finding the person/people best equipped to help, and working to put the skills and knowledge we have into the hands of the project creators,” Martens says.

Just agrees and expands on Martens’s point: “The uniqueness of each chapbook means that every project has unique needs too. That’s where our talented executive board and editorial board are both crucial.”

The power of JackPine’s board members as a resource should not be underestimated. The selection process is also tailored to the project, and so quite flexible.

“We have an admissions process, and it is occasionally followed,” says Martens. “But generally, poets are reaching out to us, and saying, ‘I have this idea for a chapbook!’ And that’s the first step, that’s what we do. We can bring your idea to life.”

Just knows what the JackPine team is looking for.

“We love to see innovative and fresh writing!” she says. “I personally love a unique poetic voice and an attention to how the poems/prose and the design both play a part in emphasizing the chapbook’s primary themes and creative vision.”

Martens also emphasizes the extent to which book design factors into those decisions. The artistic vision has to convey something special to everyone involved. “We exist for poets and artists who want this opportunity to make something beautiful and unusual,” she says.

As for the future, both Martens and Just want JackPine to stay the course.

Martens, in particular, sees the publisher’s namesake tree as an inspiration for more than just a name. “The Jack pine, in nature, is what’s called a nurse tree. It can survive harsh conditions and creates habitable terrain around itself to foster the growth of other, stronger types of trees. It’s really important for us to stay true to that idea, that we create conditions wherein people are emerging stronger poets, stronger artists, and going on to make more beautiful things.”

Just echoes that, saying, “Our goal has always been the same: bring to life the unique creative visions of our authors and artists.”