Friday, February 06, 2009

eBook poetry? Not yet!

I had an interesting lunch today with my friend, the eminent gadfly of poetry criticism David Alpaugh. We got to talking about new publishing paradigms and how they might affect poetry. I mentioned the Kindle and other such eBook reading devices. David asked if those were the new devices that let you flip the pages.

So I came home and did a little research. And found that no, the Kindle and Sony Reader don't have anything that might be described as paging capabilities. I paged through the Kindle bookstore and was aghast to find they don't even have a CATEGORY for Poetry. Some eBook revolution. Finally I located a few titles with the word "poetry" in them, and a few public domain classics like Leaves of Grass which they at least sell for only 99 cents (free elsewhere on the Internet, I might add).

Then I tried the Sony eBook reader and was happily surprised to discover that Sony at least has actually heard of university presses and carries some poetry books by actual living recognized poets, such as Yusef Komunyakaa, Amy Gerstler, Charles Bernstein. However, only 32 poetry collections appear in their whole catalog!

Then I tried poetry anthologies. At both Amazon and Sony, most anthologies were either of 19th century poets or had titles like "How to Survive the Worst Day of Your Life by Writing a Poem About It".

Apparently, small press publishing isn't even a blip on the radar in this new publishing paradigm. I guess it's still all about the money and bestsellers. What a surprise.

But if you are ready to fork over your $400 for one of these readers anyway -- DON'T BUY UNTIL YOU SEE THIS: on New Scientist, a video demonstration of a dual display eBook reader. The video shows how important it is for a reader to be able to flip back and forth through pages. And to compare one book to another. And yes, a device that can do that is being contemplated.

But the dual-display eBook has yet to be marketed. I don't know about you, but my $400 investment will wait for the page-flippng eBook reader. I need that capability for research as well as reading for pleasure.

Look out, Sony and Kindle -- the academic market is a big one. Your current devices may not cut it for students, writers and researchers. And for poets -- looks like good old print is here to stay for quite awhile. At least we'll still have our beautiful cover art. And paper between our fingrs.


  1. How popular is poetry in general? I mean say compared to pop songs? Or say TV?

    I would say it's not popular at all. It's for specialists or a small group of people who appreciate it.

    Poetry is a message, and while certainly some are more skilled than others, some messages are more desired than others. Popular poetry, which to some might not be of high quality, will become ... well ... more popular because it will be easy to publish, there's no bottleneck or even shyness to overcome. People can just publish and put it out there, immediately.

    As far as books, personally I prefer my palm TX to a hardback. I can carry around a whole library with me, and the automated scrolling helps me keep pace when reading a novel.

    I agree that there will always be a market for real books, but just as many people no doubt dismissed the paperback when it first arrived, I think many are too quick to dismiss the entire ebook phenomena.

    The only certainty is change itself.

  2. I've never been an early adopter. Why should it be any different with an ebook reader?

    What lack does the kindle make up for? Nothing I can think of.

    The mp3 and ipod, however, gave me something I've wanted since I was a teen - portable music and the music I like (no suffering through somebody else's crappy faves or radio adverts). Even then I didn't get one until virtually everyone else already had one - and it was a gift from my sweetie. I loved it.

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