Poetry, E-Books, and John Ashbery

Gilgamesh's tablet 11 never looked so good.

Gilgamesh’s tablet 11 never looked so good.

There’s an article in today’s New York Times called “Line by Line, E-Books Turn Poet-Friendly.”  In it, Alexandra Alter reports that even though “[m]ost e-readers mangle the line breaks and stanzas that are so crucial to the appearance and rhythm of poetry” publishers of poetry are starting to do a better job preserving the integrity of the line as they remediate print books into digital form.

Last week, for example, Open Road Media published 17 digital collections of John Ashbery’s poetry, “the first time the bulk of his poetry will be available in e-book form.”  In contrast, Ecco attempted to put out four Ashbery e-books three years ago and “[t]here were no line breaks, and the stanzas had been jammed together into a block of text that looked like prose.”

Check out Open Road’s promo video for Ashbery below:

#AuthorFail 10: Laura Goldstein

Um, well, this is embarrassing: if you checked this post this morning between 9 am – 9:26, you would have found an incomplete entry: devoid of this snappy opening, and truncated, it the main text, from its full form.

Could it be that #AuthorFail has had its first fail?  Would this then equal success.

I feel miserable, I mean happy…I mean, well, something else.

As Jean Francois Lyotard notes in The Inhuman, the sun will burn out one day.  Thus, all human activity is under the sign of this eventual catastrophe (no, I don’t think he considers widespread space colonization). I wonder if the sun will fail in its great and final task, to burn into nothing.

When you look into the sky today, enjoy the steaming ball of ambivalence–before that, enjoy this serious failure of a column from Laura Goldstein.

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On the Occasion of My Son’s 3rd Birthday

Joseph Millar is one of my favorite poets, and a faculty member in the MFA program I attended. Today my son, Lincoln turns three and it reminded me of hearing Millar read his poem, “American Wedding” during one of our MFA residencies. It’s a poem about his daughter’s wedding. My son wasn’t born yet at this point, it was January and he was due in June. I’d only recently started to come to grips with the idea of parenthood, I was slowly emerging from the fear of it all. I listened to Millar read this poem and a few minutes later I was taking a piss and it hit me that one day I would be watching my little boy get married, have kids, and a million things between his birth and adulthood and beyond.  Today, as I’m watching my son transform from infant to toddler, from diaper-wearing to fully potty-trained, and a million other minor milestones only parents keep track of, I once again found myself thinking of Millar, and “American Wedding” and wanting to share. So, watch this video of Millar reading this fantastic poem:

 

Announcing the launch of MadHat Press with a poetry chapbook competitio​n

MadHat Press is the non-profit imprint arm of the multimedia e-zine, Mad Hatters’ Review and a production of MadHat Arts Inc.  MadHat Press seeks to foster the work of writers and poets: explosive, lyrical, passionate, deeply wrought voices that stretch the boundaries of language, narrative and image, vital and enduring literary voices that sing on the page as well as in the mind.

Formerly based out of New York City, now at home in Asheville, North Carolina, and with our Managing Editor currently situated in Reykjavik, Iceland, MadHat Press is open to authors of all creeds and distinctions, from the emerging to the emergent, from the multicultural to the insolent. For a list of some of our contributors over the years, click on the Mad Hatters’ Review tab.

To inaugurate the official birth of MadHat Press, CAConrad, Philly poet extraordinaire and author of the gripping collection, The Book of Frank (Wave 2010), will be judging the first poetry chapbook competition. Future MadHat Press chapbook competitions will include flash-fiction, short story, and novella categories. Continue reading

A poem for Thursday: “Present Tense,” Harryette Mullen, from Sleeping with the Dictionary.

“Now that my ears are connected to a random answer machine, the wrong brain keeps talking through my hat. Now that I’ve been licked all over by the English tongue, my common law spout is suing for divorce. Now that the Vatican has confessed and the White House has issued an apology, I can forgive everything and forget nothing. Now the overdrawn credits roll as the bankrupt star drives a patchwork cab to the finished line, where a broke robot waves a mended tablecloth, which is the stale flag of a checkmate career. Now that the history of civilization has been encrypted on a medium grain of rice, it’s taken the starch out of the stuffed shorts. Now as the Voice of America crackles and fades, the market reports that today the Euro hit a new low. Now as the reel unravels, our story unwinds with the curious dynamic of an action flick without a white protagonist.”

Contemporary Verse Novels: The Anxiety of Reading Poems and Kimiko Hahn’s THE UNBEARABLE HEART

This book undoes a lot of the anxiety I have as someone who has to read a lot of poetry and has yet to discover more than two or three books of poems that I actually like and would want to read again.

Does that sounds shitty and ignorant?

I mean it, though. And this is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to book-length poems. I like narrative. I like characters. And plot and setting and drama. And while some may argue that these exist in poetry collections, I’ll say they’re easier to settle into and enjoy in book-length poems (or contemporary verse novels, which I have written about a lot here).

I mean, I have a lot of anxiety. Am I alone when I say that poetry is hard. It’s not like you can just pick up a book of poems and dive in and just read, and when I say read I mean, you know, read, like the way you did when you were a kid, or the way you do when you pick up a magazine or your favorite guilty pleasure novels (mine are those romance novels that feature neurotic career women who find love in the most unlikely suitors). These books fly by, you know? They’re easy, they offer a better world to escape to, and they don’t take forever to read.

Poetry, though. Sooo different.

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Contemporary Verse Novels: Carson, Saterstrom, Conrad, the Roubauds, Boully, and Ruefle

What is a beginning? What is an ending? What makes a particular grouping of words become a poem or a story or a fiction or a non-fiction? And do these labels, these distinctions, even matter?

For anyone who does not know, I’ve been reading and thinking about books that may or may not fit into the category of Contemporary Verse Novels. In attempting to define “contemporary verse novel,” I turned to several presses, books, and authors that I wanted to study and better understand.

 

Contemporary Verse Novel

vs.

Novel in Verse (vs. Novel vs. Poetry)

I first looked at Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution, and C. A. Conrad’s The Book of Frank. In grouping together these three books, I examined the role of family as both familiar and unfamiliar to readers. I spent some time discussing the mother/son relationship in Autobiography, the abusive father in Pink, and the strange mother who keeps jars of fetuses in Frank. In better understanding the families, readers also gain further entrance into the lives and minds of the protagonists. Whether fiction or non-fiction, poetry or short story collection, family is a solid theme that many authors write about.

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