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?


  1. Quite right. Books aren't going to disappear. But thanks to e-books and computer-assisted print-on-demand technology, there should be a lot fewer of them - which is altogether a good thing. Paper periodicals should dwindle away to virtually nothing as long as there's a vibrant internet.

  2. I completely agree about paper periodicals. The few I still subscribe to or get as contributor's copies seem lifeless compared to the nested dimensions and connections possible in even the simplest zine. More and more I have stopped even submitting to them. Fewer books would be great.

  3. Yesterday I was with a friend who has an ELECTRONIC PEN! It does things like record our conversation as he makes notes (and when he puts his pen on a note, plays back the moment-congruent voices). What I was interested in was whether the pen could download what it's written in ink and transpose it into a WORD file. He said with an attachment, yes.

    Now THAT's a possibility I'd go for, when I can afford it. I have a number of inked manuscripts I just haven't had the discipline to transpose. (I might even be able to train myself to write flowingly enough for the program to recognize all my words.)

  4. I want one of those! As I want all the new tech gimmicks. But will have to wait awhile. Typing will have to do me. But then I'm fast, so it can. Hope you get those mss. into Word!

  5. Well, we'll see. George S. is the guy that has one. Your blog seems to be a good place to say--I'm not sure whether this is the right essay to make this comment: but the fact that more and more publications, poetry and otherwise, I'm talking print publications, accept and PREFER electronic submissions, makes the submission process a hundred times less yucky! I don't know whether you've written about that development yet or not. You probably have, somewhere.

  6. Thanks...

    Really Great Post..

    Looking forward with more informative articles !