check this out.
The distinction between chaps and books seems to come up every year around this time (although last year, it was a bit more heated.) I see what Shann is saying about notions of legitimacy and acceptance, and as much as I loathe those words, I still feel a desire for them. They're a little more suspect, however, these days.
In my head, I'd probably say the defining criteria for a chapbook, would be length. Anything shorter than 48 pages which constitutes book length by most contest guidelines. Now I imagine, these could be spined or not. I have some gorgeous chaps from a number of presses that have been folded over to make one but still are shorter volumes. Some are stapled, some are sewn. And I personally don't put much stock in ISBN numbers. My one chapbook published by another press w/ an ISBN has both my name and the title spelled incorrectly in Books in Print. I've contacted them to change it like a year ago, with no luck. You couldn't find me if you wanted to. However,you could google me and find it in ten seconds.
I used to think that chapbooks denoted a certain ephemerality, somewhere between traditional books and journals. But then, I too, mainly thought of chaps as kinkos creations, stapled, largely for distribution at readings, events, or just traded around. It seems in the last few years or so, this has changed. Those kinko's jobs have melded with fine bookmaking, and created some really beautiful books that aren't merely ephemera, but something that has as much durability as a traditional book. Now the chapbook has almost become an alternative to book-length projects. Simply another way to go. I tend to be project oriented in my writing anyway, so I have all sorts of little things floating around that may become chapbooks at some point. Certainly more than I have ideas for large scope book-length monoliths. So the chapbook works for me personally. Logan was talking about this a few weeks ago, actually, about how we define the poetry "book," especially since the conventional publishing world in general doesn't put much stock behind poetry in whatever form. In my opinion, small and micropresses are where it's at these days.
The vanity thing is complicated too. I think it's a loaded term with negative connotations. And I agree with Shann, we're all vain in the creative arts, and maybe there's nothing wrong with that. In regard to the other arts, the means of delivery are not quite so dependent on distribution and legitimacy bestowed by a third party. Visual art, while yes, getting into a posh gallery is one way to show your art, another is to rent out a space and show by yourself or with some fellow artists. End result is the same. Same with music. A hit record is nice, but no one calls it "vanity" if you put your own record out, or filmmakers vain when they shoot an indie without a big Hollywood budget. Literature, in general, seems so fucking squeamish about this. And maybe it's all the bad things that are passed off as poetry these days. Some of them ironically published by big presses (And how much of an advance did Billy Corgan get for his book with Faber and Faber? Does that make him a legitimate poet?) . We feel like we need that sort of legitimacy or we're no better than the woman writing and publishing poems to her cats. Now I agree a good editor plays an invaluable role as gatekeeper sometimes, especially when it comes to regning things in. But as one myself, out of the twenty or so submissions I got last reading cycle for dgp, in addition to the seven I accepted, at least seven others were "publishable"...I just had to draw a line somewhere. As I've said there's just too many of us, and not enough presses and journals. Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands. I also agree with Scott that diy publication is a natural extention of the act of writing poems, just like performance is the extension of writing music. I love making my own chapbooks, writing them, designing them. I think of them as little art projects. Do they make me more legitimate? Probably not. Will my big book make me more legitimate. Probably not. And while I did always used sadly equate "author' with the traditional definition of a book (spine, glossyness, heftyness) I'm learning not to. I think books are good for longer projects and more expansive studies of an authors work, but chapbooks are just as valid for shorter, more immediate ones.
I think the means and distribution of poetry are changing even as we speak. Those big bookstores, even if we had a "book" wouldn't carry us anyway. Borders seems a little better in terms of selection, at least in Chicago, but B&N's idea of poetry stops at Gwendolyn Brooks and Jewel. So what do we do, rely on the indies and the internet? Not such a bad fate, I imagine.