Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: E-Messing with Poetry
Occasionally, you physical book purists have the right idea. As Terry Gilliam reminded us in Twelve Monkeys: “Science ain’t an exact science….” And every once in awhile, you’re going to have to take a lump on the cutting edge.
Case in point when I put down fifteen bucks to buy Garrison Keillor’s superlative collection Good Poems. On the surface it’s exactly the type of book that I like to buy in electronic form. It’s a work by an author for whom I have affection, but not shelf space. Something I can dip in and sample from time to time at leisure rather than take in one marathon gulp. Something that would benefit from annotation and book marking. All in one portable ever ready volume? Sold.
Only upon downloading did I notice the odd page count. 207? That can’t be right, Good Poems runs over five hundred pages. A shorter page count would mean that all the poems would have been condensed together making the collection a corrupt, unreadable mess. That would be just silly. I tested it on a few different readers. This couldn’t be the case.
Let me just establish here that I’m not what you would call a poetry zealot or anything. I have my volumes of Milosz, Larkin, Bukowski, Yeats, Auden and a few of the romantics. I’ve been known to recite ‘Tis The Verse off the top of my head after a few beers. And that’s about as well versed in poetry as I have any desire to become. Whenever someone tries to explain the nuisances of verse and meter to me, my eyes glaze over and my ears fill with white noise. I can appreciate on a basic instinctual level; I just don’t have a developed ear for it.
That being said, even a philistine such as I know that spacing and arrangement—the way the poem reads—is crucial to the integrity of said poem. For example this is a poem:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
This on the other hand is not:
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me, they were delicious. So sweet and so cold.
That’s a note that your roommate leaves on your fridge (and what a jerk he is for rubbing it in about the sweetness and coldness of your plums). It’s about as hard to tell the two apart as it is your ass from a hole in the ground. While this is a bit more dramatic than what is in Good Poems, the collection’s weird formatting has the same effect.
Having the poems run together doesn’t merely ruin the negative space and aesthetics of the book; it’s also bafflingly unnecessary. It would be understandable, if inconceivable, to have the poems run together in the physical edition. After all, paper costs money. But the pages in the e-version are immaterial. You could have a line per page if you wanted and it would make no difference to the cost. So why was the book presented in this fashion?
Carelessness. It’s the only answer I’ve come up with. This version of the book was slapped together as a quick cash grab, with little to no care or editorial oversight. It’s just what physical book lovers say e-books are.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
Have you read Good Poems on an e-reader or in print? Add a Thought below.
Want to save this piece for later? Dogear it.
Elsewhere in inReads: Learn first-hand how a poet e-published.