Ask a Poet
Format vs. Function
Advice and insight from a professional poet.



The only books I buy are poetry books, and I’m very possessive of them. I’ve been thinking of getting an e-reader to be more environmentally friendly. What is your opinion of them? And which one is better for reading poetry, the Kindle or the Nook?
— Austin


   


Well, first things first, let me make a disclaimer by announcing that I am not tech-savvy. Here’s what I know:  I got a Nook for Christmas and promptly returned it after discovering how few poetry books I could read (not one contemporary book and limited canonized books). The only allure was that I could read Llama, Llama Red Pajama in color. On the Kindle, however, I discovered that I could read The Best American Poetry anthology for 2008, 2009, 2010, as well as Noose and Hook by Lynn Emanuel and Human Chain by Seamus Heaney, so I went with that. I like my Kindle a lot. For months the only poetry I read was on my phone’s web browser while nursing my son, so I’m kind of used to reading poems in electronic format. The only bad thing, I think, is that the line breaks don’t have the same effect, and might not even be accurate. I’m really skeptical of some of the funky ways my Kindle displays poems. I think that problem should be corrected soon once concerned consumers start complaining (and I am complaining, Kindle people and Nook people — you need to up your game!  We need more poetry books!) 

I understand your hesitation. Surely something will be lost when we all start reading poetry in electronic form, maybe something similar to what was lost when we all started composing our poems on computer instead of in long-hand, something we don’t even know or give pause to recognize, being distracted by all the techno-sparkly things this age offers. But poetry is still part of this world, and the world is changing. Reading poetry is an intangible experience anyway, so we have to wonder if elimination of the material medium really matters.
"The Occupation"

I used to love reading the great poets and the words that hovered like
bees at the lines' cut edges scythed by their commas. But tonight,
beyond my locked door, the ground takes charge of caving in.
Somewhere, the windows in kitchens smolder and soldier onward
toward a glass of gin. I long for its coffin, the heat of its sleep. Dear
Sleep, help me sheet the furniture in the rooms of the brain. I will not
look underneath at the black ache of the table or wake the furnishings
into breathing. I will cut open the vein that feeds the beat of the
pendulum. I once read the great poets until my heart was blown open.
Now, whenever I stoop over the hard desk of my heart — the soldiers
come. Troy is burned.

(Lynn Emanuel)

18 January 2011



Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston. Send questions to poet@thesmartset.com.




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