The other day I told you, with no small amount of excitement, about yesterday’s release of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems in e-book format. Being the dutiful poetry lover I am, and in need of a way to re-read Ginsberg without having to drag around my massive print copy of the Collected, I bought it. Much to my dismay (but, sadly, not to my surprise, given that so much poetry is wrongly formatted when it goes digital), the liniation of the poems in the book was all messed up. The above, a screen shot of the first page of “Howl” in the e-b00k, is not the real first page of “Howl.” This is:
Even from a distance you can see the difference. Ginsberg broke his poem into what he called “strophes,” those long lines that hark back to Whitman. The indentations you see above are meant to indicate that the line keeps going beyond the end of the page, until the next left-justified line. Ginsberg was careful in his liniation, and part of the poem’s impact is in seeing that “who” sticking out again and again on the left side of the page. The digital version pays no mind to this whatsoever. What we get is not the poem itself, but a kind of poor transcription of it.
So here’s my big question–and this is a serious question that I address to someone who knows about these things: is it so hard to code the e-b00k to create those indentations? Doesn’t a trade publisher as big as HarperCollins have the money to pay a professional to do a bit of extra work on an e-book for a figure as big as Ginsberg, especially when there’s a movie about him in theaters now? What’s going on?
E-book will be huge for poetry, as soon as we can solve this problem in a way that indie publishers can take advantage of. So what’s it going to take?