eBooks and Poetry. Tough to Break.

Fitting Poetry to the Screen
How one press is working to solve poetry’s e-book problems

The same problem persists—e-books and poetry just don’t get along as well as e-books and prose. It’s those line breaks, poetry’s defining feature. The problem is a simple sounding one, but really tough to solve. Because the same e-book has to work on many different screens and devices on which readers can change the font and size of the text, it’s impossible to guarantee the line will display as the poet intended.
Of course, poetry publishers have the same problem with print books—sometimes poets’ lines are wider than a book’s trim size (take Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg), but there’s a convention to solve this: when a poetic line continues over the edge of a printed page, it’s indented on the next line. It’s been surprisingly hard to reliably recreate this indenting in an e-book, to make sure poems keep the integrity of their lines when they appear on screen.
Last year we told you about one possible solution: Bookmobile’s Ampersand poetry app and store front, a project that seems, sadly, to have been shelved in the wake of Apple’s changing in-app purchase rules, though Bookmobile’s Don Leeper told PW that the development work on Ampersand has been used to create custom book apps and e-book storefronts for publishers. This year, Copper Canyon Press, one of the biggest exclusive poetry publishers, received a $100,000 grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation specifically for the purpose of launching an e-book line and working on some of the difficulties of getting poetry on screen. Copper Canyon has been working with its distributor, Consortium (as well as the rest of Perseus), to create a better poetry e-book.
Copper Canyon’s executive editor, Michael Wiegers, says getting poetry e-books right “becomes a philosophical issue. I would say the best design is hidden. Reflowable text is stripping out the idea of design and the graphic designer’s attention to the page, and in many ways [a poet is] something of a graphic designer, looking to fill the space of the page with words in different forms.”
Read the entire article by C. Teicher here.

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