John Ashbery probably needs no introduction to fans of contemporary American poetry — or does he? Has his very eminence led many to ignore him in favor of younger, more fashionable poets? Williams Cole and Lily Henderson of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc. made this brief, highly watchable film portrait to celebrate the release of 17 books of his poetry in ebook form. The New York Times took note.
When John Ashbery, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, first learned that the digital editions of his poetry looked nothing like the print version, he was stunned. There were no line breaks, and the stanzas had been jammed together into a block of text that looked like prose. The careful architecture of his poems had been leveled.
He complained to his publisher, Ecco, and those four e-books were immediately withdrawn.
That was three years ago, and digital publishing has evolved a lot since then. Publishers can now create e-books that better preserve a poet’s meticulous formatting. So when Open Road Media, a digital publishing company, approached Mr. Ashbery about creating electronic versions of his books, he decided to give it another chance.
Last week, Open Road published 17 digital collections of Mr. Ashbery’s work, the first time the bulk of his poetry will be available in e-book form. This time, he hasn’t asked for a recall.
“It’s very faithful to the original formatting,” said Mr. Ashbery, 87, who is widely recognized as one of the country’s greatest living poets.
The article goes on to examine the current state of poetry ebook publishing — in particular, how publishers are handling the formatting. This is, incidentally, something I’ve long been interested in myself. Basically, as the article says, two different approaches have evolved: stick to PDFs or other static files to preserve text arrangement (which of course forces people on mobile devices to do a lot of scrolling), or hand-code every line so they collapse into hanging indents on smaller screens, following the printers’ convention of displaying lines too long for a page. This latter approach, thankfully, was the one Open Road chose.
The poetry of Mr. Ashbery, who often writes in long, Walt Whitmanesque lines and uses complex indentations, was difficult to digitize. “Many of my poems have lines that are very long, and it’s important to me that they be accurately reproduced on the page,” he said. “The impact of a poem very often comes down to line breaks, which publishers of poetry often don’t seem to find as important as the people who write the poems.”
After his first misadventure, Mr. Ashbery was reluctant to sell his e-book rights again. But then two years ago, his literary agent met with Jane Friedman, Open Road’s chief executive, who was interested in publishing digital versions of Mr. Ashbery’s work. She assured Mr. Ashbery and his agent that the e-book formatting would preserve his lines.
After a courtship that stretched on for about a year, Mr. Ashbery agreed to sign over digital rights for 17 collections.
The e-books took several months to produce. First his poems were scanned, digitized and carefully proofread. Then Open Road sent the files to eBook Architects, an e-book development company in Austin, Tex. There, the text was hand-coded and marked up semantically, so that the formal elements were tagged as lines, stanzas or deliberate indentations. When a line runs over because the screen is too small or the font is too big, it is indented on the line below — a convention that’s been observed in print for centuries. The technology is still far from perfect. Mr. Ashbery’s poems retain their shape better on the larger screen of the iPad, and are squeezed, with more lines spilling over, on a Kindle or an iPhone.
Poetry scholars say such minor discrepancies are a small price to pay to ensure Mr. Ashbery’s legacy in the digital age.
“John Ashbery is our T. S. Eliot, our Gertrude Stein,” said Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation. “It’s vital that his work be authoritatively available in as many different formats as possible.”
“Line by Line, E-Books Turn Poet-Friendly” by Alexandra Alter
As for the filmmakers here, it’s worth noting that Lily Henderson was recently named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine.
Walt Whitman’s iconic collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, has earned a reputation as a sacred American text. Whitman himself made such comparisons, going so far as to use biblical verse as a model for his own. So it’s only appropriate that artist and illustrator Allen Crawford has chosen to illuminate—like medieval monks with their own holy scriptures—Whitman’s masterpiece and the core of his poetic vision, “Song of Myself.” Crawford has turned the original sixty-page poem from Whitman’s 1855 edition into a sprawling 234-page work of art. The handwritten text and illustrations intermingle in a way that’s both surprising and wholly in tune with the spirit of the poem—they’re exuberant, rough, and wild. Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself is a sensational reading experience, an artifact in its own right, and a masterful tribute to the Good Gray Poet.
Here’s Allen Crawford’s website. The score for the film, “I Contain Multitudes,” is the work of Ben Warfield, and both Warfield and Kessler are good friends of Crawford, according to his blog post about the trailer. I like what he says about book trailers:
David really did a wonderful job: viewers at first will wonder where the book is, only to realize that they had been seeing it all along. Book trailers are still a relatively new thing, but I think David has set a nice precedent by going with a slower pace and lyrical treatment: there’s no reason why a book trailer should look like a film trailer, after all.
My good friend Bill was kind enough to serve as our “Whitman” (How odd and fortuitous that one of my dearest friends should be a dead ringer for Whitman…)
(Hat-tip: Poets & Writers’ Clip of the Day)
I think the description on Vimeo kind of buries the lede for this one:
I love seeing collaborations like this. The sisters produced it as a trailer for Frances’s new book of poems, Beast (Augury Books, 2014). Here’s how they characterized the book at Vimeo:
In BEAST, Frances Justine Post explores the destruction and eventual reclaiming of the self following loss. Many of the poems make up a series of “Self-Portraits” that explore the psychological core of intimacy with its inherent devotion and betrayal, reward and punishment. In one, she is a wolf; in another, an equestrian and her horse; then a tornado, the dropped crumbs of a beloved, a pack of hounds, and finally a cannibal. The self changes form and species and switches from one voice to multiple voices. Each poem attempts to reinvent the self and alter it as a way of trying to understand what remains after devastation.
This is one of five poetry book trailers included in Erica Goss’s latest column for Connotation Press.
When is a video poem more than a video poem? When it’s a book trailer. Authors promote their books with book trailers, short films meant to entice a buyer, just like a movie trailer is meant to advertise a movie. Movie trailers show a condensed version of the film, including cuts of the most exciting parts without giving away the plot, while book trailers tend to focus on the author’s credentials first and the story second, especially if the author is well-known. A video poem meant to promote a book of poems, literary fiction or non-fiction, however, is often a complete work of art, its connection to the book somewhat tangential.
About Krut’s video, Goss writes:
Robert Krut’s second collection, This is the Ocean, due out this month from Bona Fide Books, was preceded by videos of two poems from the book. “The Ocean” shows a coastal city all but abandoned in the early morning light. Robert Krut told me that he and filmmaker Nick Paonessa shot scenes at Venice Beach, California. “It’s a completely different world at dawn,” Robert said. “This sounds impossible, but you can drive from Burbank to Venice in about twenty minutes” – a trip that normally takes at least an hour. The video for “The Ocean” shows an alternate Southern California in an Edward Hopper-esque mood: a skateboarder has the whole park to himself, a empty lifeguard tower faces the sea as the sky turns pink, and the smooth wide beach is alone with its secrets as we hear the last lines of the poem: “There may be nothing for miles and miles, / but I have come from the bottom of the ocean, / and I am here to tell you about it.” The Pacific Ocean is the unreliable narrator in this video, elemental, beautiful and dangerous.
Be sure to check out her other selections. And for more videopoems that do double duty as book trailers, browse the book trailer category here. (It’s relatively new, so it doesn’t necessarily include all of the book trailers on the site.)
A poetry book trailer that appears to give a pretty good indication of the tone and flavor of the book. (I say that having read a number of Howie Good‘s books and chapbooks, though not this particular one yet.) Sizable chunks of text alternate with underwater footage of swimming penguins, apparently shot on a mobile phone at an aquarium. Unlike so many trailers for poetry books from micropresses, where the initiative to make a video originates with the author, this was made by the publishers themselves.
This is a video promoting the launch of Howie Good’s limited edition poetry collection ‘The Death of Me’ through Pig Ear Press. The text is from Howie’s book, the video was shot in Basel Zoo and the soundtrack was created on a ukulele. The video and audio were created by Mr [Pete] Lally.
Pig Ear Press are a (very) small press using letterpress printing and handbinding to create limited run books of quality. You can purchase Howie’s book and see information about previous publications by visiting pigearpress.co.uk.
I’m a little late in sharing this, but the press run doesn’t seem to be sold out quite yet.