Unstressed

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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.

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?

The “Poetry Boom”

At Sewanee Writer’s Conference last summer, there was a panel on online journals. To represent online journals, the organizers chose two editors of print-based journals, one of of which had an online counterpart. The other editor was half-heartedly – almost regretfully – toying with the idea.

During the panel, the latter editor asked who among us would be happy being published on a journal’s web version instead of in its print publication. While well over half of the attendees raised their hands, that apparently wasn’t enough for this editor, who said “See?” and went on to explain why online publication wasn’t perceived to be as prestigious as a print publication.  

Believe it or not, we deal with this attitude all the time here at Linebreak: an attitude that Johnathon summarizes as making technophobia a literary badge of honor,  an attitude that implies the work we publish is somehow second-tier because it’s not laid out in ink, an attitude that fears the internet is killing off good poetry.

Frankly: I’m calling bullshit. But so is Andrew Motion. 

In an article published in the Telegraph titled “Internet ‘is causing poetry boom‘”, the British poet laureate explains his thoughts on the relationship between the internet and poetry: “Poetry as an art form was simply well suited to the internet.”

While the article focuses on how internet communities support poetry readings, which have grown in popularity; how the internet provides a “shop window” for small presses; and how more people seem to be writing poetry lately, Motion sees the internet as returning poetry to the ear in important ways:

He said that because the web allowed people to listen to poetry once more, it had helped return it to the position it held in the “mead halls” 1,000 years ago.

Moreover, the ability to hear poetry online isn’t just rejuvenating an interest in contemporary poetry, but also in the golden oldies:

Websites like Poetry Archive, which enables people to listen to recordings of poets like TS Eliot and Allen Ginsberg reading their work, are now enjoying unprecedented success.

Poetry Archive , which Mr Motion helped set up, now receives 135,000 visitors a month and a million page hits.

The popularity of the Poetry Archive has only led Motion “to conclude that the real problem with poetry was ‘not one of appetite, but of delivery’.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Poetry dumpsters

In a recent two-part editorial, the editor of Free Lunch reportedly took online journals to task for being “poetry dumpsters for poetry that has been rejected by the print magazines.”

I haven’t read the pieces in full (they are, predictably, not available online), but I’m trying to get copies of the issues so I can respond. As you might guess, we here at Unstressed have some definite thoughts about the value and unique capabilities of online journals. (We also have thoughts on how often technophobic ignorance masquerades as literary discernment.) More on this topic soon.

In the meantime, read Diane Lockward’s excellent list of the qualities she looks for in an online journal, as well as the online journals that she admires. Linebreak’s presence in the latter post is a happy accident, nothing more.

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