87. Those pesky line breaks

This year, however, the most pressing issue facing poetry publishers is the same one that’s facing everyone else in the book biz: the digital transition. While digitizing poetry collections wasn’t anyone’s first priority, the time has come, and, in one way or another, most of the important poetry presses—Graywolf, Copper Canyon, BOA, Coffee House, Wesleyan—will make at least some of their books available as e-books by the fall.

But poetry publishers do have one issue that most publishers don’t in terms of e-books: those pesky line breaks, the things that happen to make poems what they are. It turns out it’s pretty hard to preserve line breaks in EPub and other e-book file formats: one of the ways reflowable text adapts to readers‘ preferences in terms of font size and reading device is to wrap lines on the screen differently depending on those preferences. So, on one reader’s Kindle, the first two lines of „The Road Not Taken“ might appear correctly („Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both“), whereas on the same reader’s Kindle smartphone app, in a larger font, it could, for instance, look like this:

Two roads diverged
in a yellow wood
And sorry I could
not travel both

That’s just an example, and it may not seem to matter much—it’s the same words, right?—but poetry is about not just content but form. The packet of thought that is „Two roads diverged in a yellow wood“ is different from the one that is just „Two roads diverged.“

(…)

So publishers can’t just send their poetry collections to mass-conversion houses and hope for the best. A few have tried, and the results are disastrous (take, for example, HarperCollins’s e-book edition of the Collected Poems of Allen Ginsberg, which makes „Howl“ look like a formless blob of text on a screen; it’s unreadable). / Craig Morgan Teicher, Publishers Weekly

Howl on Kindle

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