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A weblog from the editors of Linebreak

The regulars

Ash Bowen's poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Blackbird, and Black Warrior Review, among other publications. He lives and works in Texarkana, AR.

Jennifer Jabaily's poetry has appeared in Mannequin Envy and Fickle Muses. She's a second-year MFA student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Ashley Anna McHugh is a third-year MFA student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Measure, DIAGRAM and Memorious as well as other publications.

Johnathon Williams's poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2009, the Pebble Lake Review, and Unsplendid. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, with his wife and daughters.

Poetry: Does that impress girls?

Q: Is it wrong to e-mail this guy for the sheer snickering joy?

A: You’re a jerkface, Jerk.

Q: So it is.

Sign of the Apocalypse: Poetry discussed on late-night TV.

So, for anyone who missed this, Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry got together for a special audience-less taping of Ferguson’s show– mock at will, but I so rarely watch any late-night, and Ferguson is the only late-night host I actually enjoy these days– and they managed to talk about Robert Graves, Twitter, substance abuse, Emma Thompson’s huge crush on Hugh Laurie, tattoos, W.H. Auden and Lady Gaga.

Dana Stevens discusses the show at Slate’s Brow Beat– the link in her post goes to two clips of the episode hosted at CBS.com. Here’s the CBS clip of the show:

The full interview is also available (in 6 sections) at this YouTube account.

If you enjoy Fry’s sort of humor, he wrote a stupendously clever book on formal poetry:


“Ode to My Sharona” by Sherman Alexie

Read the poem for yourself.

The Apple Tablet

No. We won’t know what Apple’s announcement is exactly until 10:00 AM Pacific time – but there’s enough speculation, all concentrated around the same general assumptions, that the possibilities of the Apple Tablet seem reasonable to consider.

According to most guesses, the Apple Tablet will be an e-book reader – although not a device dedicated to reading. John Gruber, over at Daring Fireball, has this to say:

If you’re thinking The Tablet is just a big iPhone, or just Apple’s take on the e-reader, or just a media player, or just anything, I say you’re thinking too small — the equivalent of thinking that the iPhone was going to be just a click wheel iPod that made phone calls. I think The Tablet is nothing short of Apple’s reconception of personal computing.

But a quote from Steve Jobs mentioned in this essay implies that he has little interest in e-book readers: “People don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the US read one book or less last year.”

Also, while most e-book readers – think Kindle and Nook – are dedicated devices, meaning they don’t do anything but e-books; and while that’s been lauded as a gesture toward the preservation of traditional experiences of reading, Jobs has also said that “I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing, but I think the general-purpose devices will win the day.”

While these quotes – and particularly the first – might seem to imply that Jobs doesn’t have any interest in the e-book market, Gruber says that he “would square the two remarks as follows: Not enough people read to make it worth creating a dedicated device that is to reading what the original iPod was to music. [...] But e-reading as one aspect among several for a general-purpose computing device — well, that’s something else entirely.”

Given this logic, which seems reasonable, we can probably expect that, assuming the Tablet is an e-book reader, it won’t only be an e-book reader – and if Gruber’s right, it might be something equivalent to a laptop, a device we’ll buy in place of the macbook – and it might even end up, as Gruber says, “redefining the experience of personal computing” in the same way that iPods redefined MP3 players, or how the iPhone – and its apps – have changed the expectations for cell phones.

But: Apologies. This is the Linebreak blog, not a tech forum, so I’ll get to the bit that intrigues my poetic sensibilities: Gizmodo’s Brian Lam writes, in an article titled “Apple Tablet to Redefine Newpapers, Texbooks, and Magazines“, that Apple has been “in talks with several media companies rooted in print, negotiating content for a ‘new device’” – including The New York Times, McGraw Hill and Oberlin Press. He also claims “several executives from one of the largest magazine groups” recently presented “their ideas on the future of publishing” to Apple.

More? Yesterday, in The Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg reported that “Book publishers were locked in 11-th hour negotiations with Apple Inc. that could rewrite the industry’s revenue model after the technology giant unveils its highly anticipated tablet device Wednesday.”

Finally, mostly for fun: There was also a strange rumor going around about this time last year, courtesy of Newsarama’s Vaneta Rogers, who passed along a word of an odd activity at Apple as reported by Andy Ihnatko, a technical writer and a contributer to some big-gun media outlets: “For awhile, trucks loaded with books would arrive at a loading dock on the Apple campus, and offload big, big, big, big, huge load of books, and then the trucks would leave empty. And Apple does not have a 100,000-book employee library there on the Apple campus.” Ihnatko guesses that Apple might be preparing to go into the e-book market, and wants to have a lot of titles. He goes on to speculate about “a large-screen iPod Touch or something very much like it.”

But, really, the most interesting proposition is summarized best by Brian X. Chen and Dylan F. Tweeny of Wired in “Apple Event to Focus on Reinventing Content, Not Tablets“ . They write, simply, “Apple’s goal is to offer a new platform for content creators to reinvent books, magazines and online content.”  Without hesitation, they continue, expanding on what they mean by “reinvent”:

Already, iTunes LP utilizes HTML5 and JavaScript code to present richer album experiences that can include cover art, liner notes, lyrics and more, in addition to music. ITunes Extras works in a similar way with movies. Both take advantage of a browser built in to the iTunes application to present multimedia content.

An iTunes book involving HTML5 would be a logical extension of the platform to create similar rich-media wrappers for e-books and e-magazines. But why stop at the covers?

Content creators could use HTML5 and JavaScript to create well-designed, interactive content. That could be as simple as an illustrated and code-enhanced story or as complex as a fancy digital magazine packed with video and audio.

This would signal, to say the least, a fundamental shift in understanding – but not in regard to the e-book reader. When it comes down to it, this would  ultimately demand a reconsideration of the e-book itself.

Returning to to Gizmodo’s Brian Lam, we find an even cleaner description of what this might mean for readers: “The eventual goal is to have publishers create hybridized content that draws from audio, video and interactive graphics in books, magazines and newspapers, where paper layouts would be static.” A contributer to The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs expands on what this implies for readers – and writers:

New technology spawns new ways to tell stories. That’s the really exciting thing here. Not the tablet itself, but what it means for news, for entertainment, for literature. Gasp. Geddit? Is the fucking light going off yet? This is what Anton Chekhov meant when he said that the medium is the message. This is why the Tablet is so profound.

There is no point in moving to digital readers if we’re just going to do what we did on paper. That’s why Kindle is such a piece of shit.

Here’s what interests me: “New technology spawns new ways to tell stories,” and, also: “the medium is the message.” Maybe you know me by now, and assuming you do, you’re are fully aware of my weakness for speculation. So, of course, I’m asking this:

What implications would this have for collections of poetry?

Given Linebreak’s audio element, it makes sense that I wonder if select poems – or, heck, all the poems – included in a book might link to recordings of that individual poem by the author? Or videos of various, lengthier readings? Embedded images showing the art that inspired an ekphrastic poem? Links to the sources of epigraphs? All the allusions hyperlinked to obscure Wikipedia articles? Definitions of flagged words? In short: Will the reader interaction that might be enabled by Apple’s Tablet only result in contextualizing poems more effectively, more immediately?

Or, as in Steven Johnson’s article “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write” from The Wall Street Journal, a piece I’ve written about before, will every poem have a “Comments” section, like a blog post – a place to praise, or to vent puzzled frustrations? Explications, discussions by readers?

Will we be able to believe John Stuart Mill’s famous claim that poetry, as defined against public speech, “is read as overheard”  - a quote that informed at least one cultural theorist’s opinion that poetry cannot have the influence of public speech. When the “overheard” poem is surrounded by an active and engaged community of readers, each one very aware the others, can a poem remain an intimate experience?

Is it true that we’ll see what Johnson describes as a “great flowering of annotating and indexing,” so that “readers will stumble across books through a particularly well-linked quote on page 157, instead of an interesting cover on display at the bookstore, or a review”? Is the end result of this, truly, that links to the poem – or even links to a line, or to a word of the poem – will these “citations”, to use Johnson’s language, “become as powerful a sales engine as promotion is today,” given that search engines respond to the number of inbound links a page has.

Could today’s announcement be the beginning of the fragmentation of Johnson predicts, with “every page of every book individually competing with every page of every other book that has ever been written, each of them commented on and indexed and ranked”?

Johnson’s dream of the future of literature might be almost apocalyptic in the sense that books as we know them, books as whole and physical objects, could be completely lost – or, maybe worse, retained as a kind of trinket, a novelty. However, the idea of interactive text also opens entirely new territory for literature, which could easily be seen as exhilarating.

Myself, I’m not sure which emotion, or emotions, to have. If anything, I feel removed. I can’t seem to reckon with what this all implies – it’s odd and foreign, an unreal future; it’s the Twilight Zone, a world moving with and against somehow-familiar, but subtly different rules. It’s a supposition to me – but I realize it could be very actual, very soon. I’m not sure what to do with that.

Really, it seems likely that we’re a few hours away from, at least having a foundation for the kinds of interactive texts Johnson imagines; we’re just barely set off from a moment that could be defining for literature. Put briefly – and I think I’m being honest, assuming Apple’s Tablet lives up to hype, even eventually – this is an event that could tilt the poetic landscape, remake it as almost impossibly different. And, so. Should we then presume?

And how should we begin?

I Love This Poem

For the past two years or so, I’ve fallen out of love with free verse.  Or rather, I’ve found–in my opinion–more and more poets writing in free verse to be doing nothing more than writing prose and inserting breaks.  (Of course, I’m excluding the truly great free verse we publish.)  But today’s featured poem on Verse Daily is a free verse poem by George David  Clark that I admire so very much.  Almost every line dazzles or amazes, which is what every poem should aspire to, but this poem just gets it so right for me that I had to post something about here on Unstressed.

Please to enjoy:


Whither handwriting

Handwriting is dying because its laggardly pace impedes thinking, according to an essay by professor Anne Trubek, who includes a brief history of handwriting and the teaching of penmanship alongside her argument.

When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable.


Whatever we use to write, there will be a shortfall between conception and execution, between the ideas in our heads and the words we produce. We often insert nostalgia into this gap.

Events as the future of media

Robin Sloan says the future of media — media that successfully captures both attention and money — may be in events, especially events that act as generative occasions for original creative work.

A specter is haunting the internet, and I think it’s even scarier than the chal­lenge of getting people to pay money. It’s the challenge of get ting them to pay attention. I think it’s only going to get worse—which is to say, better, because we as internet users and blog readers and tweet slingers will have more cool, weird, interesting stuff to look at all the time, and it will just keep coming faster and getting cooler and fragments and—ack!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s classical approach to creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on changing our approach to creativity is just exquisite. She argues that it may be healthier and more practical to adopt a Greco-Roman view of creativity, where inspiration comes from capricious external forces, than to continue with the humanist idea of the suffering artist who’s solely responsible for the success or failure of his creations. There’s a section on poet Ruth Stone’s writing process around 10:15.

What’s wrong with the magazine business

John C. Abell, bureau chief for Wired.com, runs down the scammy subscription practices of print magazines.

I made the mistake of picking up a magazine in Barnes & Noble over the weekend, showering both my feet and the floor in subscription cards. Do people actually mail those silly things in?

Excellent and obscure

At The Guardian, David Parkinson recommends the best 10 foreign, non-Hollywood films of 2009.

I promise to take it easy with the best-of lists over the holiday. The last thing the Internet needs is another set of bullet points.

The next step for magazines

Laura Miner muses on the evolution of the magazine and the development of Pictory, her excellent new site for multi-author photo essays.

It’s interesting to think about Pictory in the context of a magazine, because, while some people will call it an online magazine, in reality it is something else entirely — something new that we don’t have a word for yet. Innovative sites that bill themselves as online lit journals have the same problem. They’re not journals at all — and the use of old labels muddies our thinking.

If copyright was absolute

Marco Arment, maker of Instapaper, asks and answers what would happen if copyright were perfectly enforceable 100 percent of the time:

Today’s demand for permissively licensed content is nearly zero because most people can get away with small-scale infringement. If that were no longer possible, all of these infringements would be replaced by much more demand for permissively licensed content. Any publishers unwilling to satisfy the demand would be left in the dust by those who would.

Sweet Charity

Lately I’ve been looking for poems of charity and gratitude — maybe because I feel so little of either this time of year. This recording of “Sweet Charity” by John Clellon Holmes is my favorite so far. (Holmes’s books of poetry are sadly out of print, though a few of his novels remain.) The poem was read by Donald S. Hays last year at the anniversary celebration for the Arkansas MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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Will the best American President please step forward? Not so fast, Buchanan.

In case you missed it, there was a fantastic piece about poetry on American Presidents in the New York Times this past Sunday.  I rather liked the few lines on Rutherford B. Hayes written by James Haug–  the following is from “A Day Like Any Other,” published in the Gettysburg Review in 2006:

When Rutherford B. Hayes comes to town,
Squirrels are charmed out of the eaves.
The editor breaks down and sobs.

His unrecorded remarks fill the air.

If we venture outside of the world of verse, my favorite celebration of a D-list President has long been They Might Be Giants’ James K. Polk– here’s a video of them performing this song in a Borders Books in my lovely (?) hometown of Braintree, MA for a bunch of fairly energetic and vaguely nerdy children, accompanied by their slightly less energetic and much nerdier parents.

(Note:  As a few friends from college and I once discovered, to “James K. Polk” is a lovely euphemism for hogging something a la Manifest Destiny, e.g. “Ricky, can you please stop James K. Polk-ing the sofa?  The rest of us need a place to sit down.”)

Optional homework:  Write a few lines about a solidly middle-of-the-road President.  Post ‘em in the comments, if you’re brave.  Make me laugh.  Make me cry.  Make me fall in love with William Howard Taft all over again.

Quick! Fling your shoes into the machines!

Nick Bilton responds to plans by major publishers to delay ebook releases in order to boost hard cover sales:

I can tell you one thing: When I’m looking for a new book on my Kindle and told I have to wait four months for the e-book version, I won’t be heading to the bookstore. Instead, I’ll click the back button and buy one of the 360,000 other e-books available now.

Didn’t anyone at these publishing companies watch what happened to the music and newspaper industries over the last 10 years?

Also, a best-selling business writer has taken ebook rights away from his print publisher in an exclusive arrangement with Amazon.


I’ve got a new poem up at 42opus this week. Thanks to Brian Leary et al for the beautiful presentation.

5,000 knots

Okay, so maybe my day hasn’t been so bad in the grand scheme of things. The story of a 43-hour surgery to remove a 15-pound tumor.

Eliminating the middlemen

John Oakes, founder of OR books, explains how his company eliminates the middlemen in publishing by combining print-on-demand with direct sales through the company’s web site.

Imagine taking the guesswork out of publishing. Imagine a publisher printing only to fulfill orders, and with a minimum of waste; imagine further a system that sidesteps warehouses, wholesalers, and even–at least at the outset of a book's life–bookstores and online retailers. This would be a process wherein the publisher focuses on developing ideas into workable manuscripts, carefully editing them–and, above all, devoting substantial resources to marketing the finished product.

Fake Steve at the top of his game

Now there was silence again. This time I was the one not talking. There was this weird lump in my throat, this tightness in my chest. I had this vision of the future — a ruined empire, run by number crunchers, squalid and stupid and puffed up with phony patriotism, settling for a long slow decline.

from The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs : A not-so-brief chat with Randall Stephenson of AT&T.

New word processor for the Mac

Ommwriter is a wonderfully fussy new full-screen word processor for the Mac. There are other full-screen editors, WriteRoom being my favorite, but Ommwriter is the first effort I’ve seen to create an entire environment for creative composition through the use of ambient music, customizable feedback sounds, and an attractive background image.

Ingenious really, and the kind of software the could only be written for the Mac. The free beta is well worth a download.

(via Daring Fireball).