Archive for October 10th, 2010

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”: More on “Breaking up is hard to do…”

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

He did not live long enough to see bad lineation

It started with Billy Collins. Now Allen Ginsberg has entered the act, via Publisher’s Weekly.

In July, we discussed the searing, red-hot topic of the day: the e-book and its effect on a poem’s lineation:

Poet Billy Collins has come out decisively against the e-book. The AP story is here.

His reason:  It’s difficult to manage a poem’s line breaks on the electronic screen, which has a disturbing tendency to break lines at awkward places and slide the remaining text onto the next line flush left, as if it were a new line.  Why it’s taken Collins so long to notice this is unclear — he could have seen it in any of his online reviews.

Robert Pinsky is confident the technical problems can be fixed, but that adds that besides the problems with portable e-readers, “most word processors treat verse as though each line were a paragraph. So, for example, typing a Wallace Stevens poem with capital letters at the beginning of the lines can be mildly annoying,” Pinsky says.

Now Craig Morgan Teicher at Publisher’s Weekly is ranting about the eBook version of Ginsberg’s Collected Poems and the screwed-up lineation.  “This is not ‘Howl,'” he howls:

“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.”

Just like we said.  Now, if we can just get Teicher to spell “lineation,” we’re in business.  He’s setting a bad example.  Galleycat repeated the misspelling.