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


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.

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

  1. Roseanne Sullivan Says:

    So many “improvements” are made without regard to such important niceties, such as where the line of a poem breaks in a e-book. In the beginning of web page development, when tech documents were put online, line widths on text extended across the whole width of the browser window. When I complained, the answer I always got was that the reader could adjust the width of the browser window to create any line width he or she wanted. Eventually web pages were shaped by tables and then by CSS, so now the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. I think poems to be put online would have to be hand-coded to insert line breaks and indents where they belong, but who is going to do that?

    BTW, I knew Alan Ginsberg for a few years. I started admiring his poetry in the much-too-tolerant 60s. So I was thrilled when he came to a party at my house, invited by a friend of a friend of a friend, and I hung around with the circle around him for a while in Harvard Square, and then ran into him in the Lower East Side and at a writer’s conference, I think it was in North Dakotsa. Ginsberg was a loathsome amoralist, pedophile, member of the MBLA. You can read for yourself about his proclivities. One of his students wrote a well-reviewed book about five years ago, which was not critical. It was amazing how the liberal press did not react at all to the book’s description of Ginsberg’s attempted seduction of as many of his male students as he could get. The boy himself noticed that Ginsberg blatantly praised the poems of the most attractive boys. He tried to seduce the boy who eventually wrote about him, when there were no other choices around, but didn’t succeed in that case. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son after Ginsberg’s death wrote in a series of published accolades about how nice it would be if Ginsberg could come back in an attractive body, so he could succeed better when cruising the gay bars. It’s all too nasty for any more words.