I was lucky enough to be sent John Kinsella’s Armour by Mark Antony Owen, back when the kerfuffle over the TS Eliot Prize still seemed like it might be something important. It has been reviewed quite comprehensively (see links at the bottom of this post), but I wanted to use it to put down some thoughts about scale, within the space of a poem & within the space of the collection. I fear that much of this is going to seem negative, when I think Kinsella to be a very talented & thoughtful poet, & Armour is an accomplished & rewarding collection. Nevertheless, it provides some interesting examples for language, metaphor, & the space of the collection.
n.b. The possibilities for Kindle formatting have been increased with the introduction of KF8, although at present these options are only available on the Kindle Fire. It is uncertain how this will affect e-ink Kindle devices. Fixed layout would (in theory) remove the problem of Kindle-broken lines, but we are not quite there yet. This guide works on the assumption of reflowable lines, with as much consistency across Kindle devices (Kindle Fire, Kindle readers, & Kindle for iPad & iPhone) as possible. Different screen sizes/resolutions causes some problems here, but we shall do the best we can. I will work on a post on what the new KF8 formatting options could do for poetry, & how we can work with better html markup & css media queries to improve backwards compatibility.
The Kindle is not kind to poetry. For those who want to self-publish their poetry on Kindle, formatting your poems is a gloomy prospect, & one that requires reducing your expectations. If you want your poetry ebook to look at least acceptable, the best chance is by doing the conversion to mobi yourself. The workflow which allows the most hands-on control is to create your ebook in oebps format (a predecessor of epub), & use Kindlegen to convert & package your files into a mobi ebook. This is not as difficult as it sounds, & this guide will go through the process step-by-step, along with code examples and a full sample ebook of some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Teaching you about basic html, css & xml is not a part of this guide, as you can find enough about this elsewhere. The knowledge required for putting together an ebook is very small, & you should be able to see most of what you need from the example code.
Not all of the future possibilities of digital publishing are applicable to poetry. (This is speaking about the poetry book once finished, not about how that book could go through the process of publication. For more on the latter idea, see my post about a hypothetical model for a poetry publisher, wherein the publisher essentially works as an API for readers/consumers to create a poetry book based on their own criteria.) It is useful to trim down these speculative possibilities to look at how the ideal poetry ebook, with its particular requirements, might look (outside of present platforms or devices, although much would be possible within the EPUB3 spec.).
Here is a list of poetry-related events & dates for the coming year. Please help me fill it in.
The Huffington Post has recently published an article by the poet Phil Brown, lamenting the impact of the Kindle on poetry. He writes:
The Kindle[…]does not care about the poet’s feelings about line-breaks or page-structure or the publisher’s in-house typographical style. The Kindle cares about giving you the words you asked for in the order that the writer wrote them – if Coleridge could read Kubla Khan as an ePub he’d write a couple of footnotes to his famous adage.
Whilst the nature of novels certainly stand up incredibly well to this treatment, the arbitrariness of page and line-breaks on the Kindle make viewing Prufrock on an eReader akin to viewing an Edward Hopper painting snapped in two and placed in neighbouring rooms to save space.
He is completely right that there is a problem with the Kindle’s reflowable text & poetry. I wrote about this issue in my review of Sarah Dawson’s Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals. But it is frustrating that this response to the problem is so pessimistic & unimaginative.
I have been thinking about freeing books from their containers, & how it could work for poetry publishers (as poems, & their individual publication in magazines & anthologies as well as in collections, are an obviously separate unit within a book). I have been thinking about a hypothetical model for how a C21st poetry publisher could work, based on database-driven websites — i.e., content management systems — which gives more control to the reader, enables greater content discovery, brings readers & writers closer together, & reduces risk in the investment of publication.
(Please bear in mind that this post is a work in progress. Feedback will help!)