October 19, 2010

The Digital Fate of Poetry


When Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems, the story got a good bit of attention, including coverage by NPR and a call from the Poetry Foundation.

“Why the attention?” asks Teicher, in a follow-up article for PW. “Not because people care deeply about the digital fate of poetry, but, I think, because the difficulties of formatting poetry e-books are magnified versions of the problems all publishers are having with getting their e-books to look as good as print books.”

He advances the story–his original complaint was that “the liniation of the poems in the book was all messed up”–by identifying a key problem and by suggesting a few solutions. “Keep in mind,” “that liniation on the page is one of the main ways poetry communicates its meaning — lines largely are why poetry isn’t prose…. [and] no one seems to have a foolproof solution for how to stop line breaks from getting at least somewhat screwed up if the font is made too large on an e-reader or app.”

According to The obvious solution, writes “is to do the coding by hand, book by book, so each book is formatted according to the needs of its text.”

As a test, he sent Joshua Tallent, founder of the firm eBook Architects, a stanza from John Keats‘s “Ode to a Nightingale” so he could format it in e-pub by hand. The result looks like this:

Which produces a page that should display on an e-reader as:

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.