Thursday, July 02, 2009

e-Publishing Makes Us Itchy

I seem to have raised an uncomfortable topic with many people: the future of publishing. Well, of course. I feel itchy thinking about it too, wondering if books will still exist in, oh, five years. But as I debated on a poetry listserv with people who mostly find e-Books offputting and a less than satisfactory reading experience, it came to me that it's not an either-or proposition. Why should e-publishing displace print for poetry?

A key issue for me is mobility: carrying my entire library in my purse. I would give away the feel of paper for that in a hot minute. But fortunately, I don't have to. I prize the esthetic appeal of holding and reading a bound paper book. I love fonts! And their history. Have you rented the movie "Helvetica"? If you write, you should know about type.

But mobility and maneuverability have become far more important to my writing process lately than esthetics of print. For example, yesterday I delved into a long and fascinating essay on Emily Dickinson's fascicles, paired with a detailed medical definition of fascicle as muscle tissue, skipping over to the poems themselves, and made notes about further investigation -- on my iPhone. I also carry a paper notebook in my purse -- still write first drafts by hand -- along with at least one poetry book.

But without the ability to surf the Net on my phone, yesterday's couple of hours in waiting rooms would have been creatively unproductive. Sure, I might have read a book. But I couldn't have pursued all the wily ideas that book (What We Carry by Dorianne Laux) engendered. One of her poems led me to Emily D., and then the idea of the fascicles. I was, after all, stuck in medical offices! So the connection between her bundles of poetry and muscle sinews was resonant.

I don't see why one technology need be jettisoned because another arrives. Here we are discussing books on a listserv! Which is a pretty old technology in Internet history. The future of publishing may just be choices, enriching and broadening the audience for poetry.

Now, can someone please invent an iTunes-like mechanism for downloading a reading of a single poem? Or do I have to do everything?