Yesterday I posted an angry rant about the lack of formatting in the e-book version of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems. I was surprised by the number of passionate reactions the post generated (NPR even picked it up!). I made a kind of call for some answers to the question of how to best format poetry for digital publication. Luckily, the answers are sort of out there, and my friends at the excellent online magazine At Length came to the rescue by pointing me to a post they did on the blog Zeitgeist NYC about how they and others manage to code poetry so it looks just right online (and in e-books).
As you can see from the image above, formatting poetry for the Web requires a lot of tricky code work–”html magic for every piece,” according to At Length‘s Tammy Oler. (Those purple bits of text are html, by the way.) The post goes on to interview others about how HTML5 and other programming languages affect how poetry appears digitally.
Obviously, doing this right takes a huge amount of tech-know-how, and a lot of patience, and certainly few of us in the poetry world have the former, let alone the latter. And most poetry publishers–even the big ones like Copper Canyon and Graywolf–have small staffs and limited resources to get this kind of work done for every book. That said, there are resources out there–perhaps the Poetry Foundation, for instance, which has a lot of money, could devote some energy to building some tools publishers could use.
I know small presses are especially eager to know more about how to do digital poetry right. If there are others out there with advice and suggestions, please write in and we’ll keep this conversation going.
[Full disclosure: At Length published a long poem of mine a little while back].