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What’s it got on its iPod?

By Sina Queyras

I have been reading on my iPod for a few months now. I can’t make the leap to Kindle, partly because I don’t like the idea of being tied into Amazon (or B&N or any big chain book store), but also because I resist the fact of another stand-alone electronic device to have to worry about losing, recharging, maintaining, and so on. The iPod, so far, is satisfying. It’s multifunctional. I have my photos, my music, my podcast subscriptions. It even works as a flash light. Although last night when I got home, deep into a re-read of a Bronte novel, and had to charge, rather than take the “book” to bed, I keenly felt one of the limitations.

According to the New York Times today there were over a 100 different eReaders available at a recent trade show in Las Vegas. The question is what are they reading? I have a feeling it isn’t poetry. Dickinson, Eliot—the poetry I have on my iPod, via Stanza, my app of choice, is from the impressive, but limited selection available through Project Gutenberg. These are largely books I already have in my library, and even as pdfs on my lap top. I keep looking for ways to get at contemporary poetry for my iPod though: I have a feeling that this is a good match. Problem is there is very little poetry out there. I checked eReader, another popular app for the iPhone and iPod, but of the 40 titles that came up for poetry many of them were David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series (including 1997, my favorite). There was, if I recall some Poe, as well as a few thematic anthologies, but no single titles.

Coach House, my venerable press located on bp Nichol Lane in Toronto, always has one finger in the past and one in the future. While it still makes gorgeous books in house (yes, with stacks of paper and printers churning away), it has also, over the years, found ways to use the Internet to deliver and promote books. Now they are making etexts available. The problem for me is how do I get the etext versions of a Coach House book—or any other poetry book—onto my iPod? I read from pdfs on my laptop, but that kind of reading is usually for research rather than leisurely reading. This fall when I misplaced my copy of Lyn Hejinian’s Language of Inquiry for example, and needed to read a chapter before the next morning, I bought an ebook in a few seconds. It was linked to Adobe Digital Editions, an app that I found clumsy and slow and won’t use again. So, the Hejinian book remains outside of my virtual library. That’s something I want to avoid–the building of multiple digital libraries.

While I didn’t enjoy reading it in that format, I do like reading on my iPod, and I do like the quick delivery. What does all this mean? A cursory search tells me that both Stanza and eReader have been acquired by Amazon so the myth of getting an alternative reader is probably just that. And while those two readers remain free, they likely won’t be for long. I am resisting the monetized app for the moment, not because I don’t want to pay for books, but because I want to figure out which platform, or app, or whatsit, is going to best let me access the books I want to read in that format.

The book arrives in one format or another. Etexts may be next, hopefully they won’t be the last. Meanwhile you tell me—what have you got on your iPod? Any poetry?

Comments (15)

  • On January 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm Jason Crane wrote:

    I’ve run into the same issues. I’ve got some of the Gutenberg stuff on my iPod (Whitman, Poe, Dickinson, etc) but no contemporary work. I do sometimes browse to online poetry sites with my iPod, particularly those that are mobile-browser-friendly. But when it comes to contemporary poetry, I usually read a book.

    Just to keep it real, I read and responded to your post e
    using my iPod.

  • On January 9, 2010 at 11:00 pm Eric Smith wrote:

    The Kindle App for the iPhone and iPod touch is great, especially the most recent version. You can now take notes and highlight sections (borrowed from Stanza, I suspect) instead of relying on virtual dog-eared pages. There is a decent selection of contemporary poetry in the Kindle Store, at least if it’s a book on a major press, though there are more titles every time I check. Kindle also allows you to sample books, which is a nice way to browse newer titles for those of us without a well-stocked bookstore nearby. Of course you’re still shackled to Amazon’s DRM, which is unfortunate, but any book you buy with your Amazon account is accessible from any other Kindle device or software you own, so it’s at least not locked to a single device.

    My issue with Kindle (other than the DRM) and other small-screen e-readers is what they do to the poem on the page. Lines break almost at random, depending on the publisher’s e-book house style (if there is such a thing), what font size you set the program to display, and even the orientation of the device itself. In some ways it’s great, because one can reshape a poem on the fly, but there’s no good way to see the poem “on the page” unless you have a Kindle DX. Fortunately, Amazon has started tagging poetry books with a note that says “optimized for larger screens” to address this “issue,” although I’m sure it was far down on their list, considering they can’t bother to include a “Poetry” section in the Book Store department on the website.

    You might also try an app called DocumentsToGo, made by DataViz. It allows you display all of MS Office’s document types, as well as pdfs, which might open up your e-book library a bit. Attachments downloaded via the Mail app are available whether you’re online or not, so if you have any of your books as straight-up .doc files, you can comfortably read them on your iPod if you don’t mind searching for and thumbing through the whole document each time you want open it. I know Stanza’s software has a convert-to-eBook option built in, but I was never able to make it work to my satisfaction.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 2:23 am Matt wrote:

    I don’t think poetry would look good on an iPod just because the lines would be too long for the screen and they’d be dropped down all the time so it would be all zig-zaggy.

    I started reading Mansfield Park on my iPod and I thought it was really cool for awhile then the novelty wore off and now I only read real books again.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 3:07 am Cheryl Gilbert wrote:

    I’ve actually been thinking lately that poetry would be one of the things I’d want to read on a reader– I read poetry journals online much more than I did hard copy. Wonderful if we could work to use the medium to combine with other media elements in a way that feels natural.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 9:55 am evie wrote:

    I have poetry on my iPod — but in audio. As someone who gets into hearing poetry (especially when the author is reading it, and reading it well), this is more appealing to me than reading poetry on-screen with the formatting all screwed up (as Matt noted above).

    Not to totally sidestep the point of your post, I will just ditto your disinterest in further solidifying Amazon’s monopoly bid, which is why I haven’t bought a Kindle. I was on the subway Friday, reading a volume of 21st century poetry (Will Alexander, to be specific), and realized the woman standing next to me was reading from a Kindle. I looked around the car and saw that everyone else reading had their chunky novels and sprawling newspapers in hand. I think I can wait until the Kindle has some real competition . . . and until a platform that can support poetry’s longer lines and not-always-hugging-the-left-margin structures has been produced.

    P.S. You’ve got to rearrange your room so there’s a plug by your nightstand — that way you can charge *and* read in bed at the same time…

  • On January 10, 2010 at 11:21 am Jordan wrote:

    I’m using Stanza for the books that would break the straps on my last old logo T&W bag (not to mention send me to the chiropractor) if I were to carry them around — Boswell’s Johnson, Gibbon, and I swear somewhere in there I’ve got the Anatomy of Melancholy.

    Somebody could make a small killing a la Devin Emke’s Submission Manager by developing a good poetry-text formatter for ePub. For now the only way around the universal clumsiness is to stick to poetry where the linebreaks are impervious — Borrow’s collections of ballads, for example.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for all the comments…I’m going to try and address them in one, but will likely have to come back again later to fill in this response.

    Matt, I know what you mean. I’m not sure I want to shift my reading to this format, but I will do some reading there, and I see its uses, yes.

    Jordan, that’s what I’m talking about! Where is the application for poetry?? I am quite surprised at how slowly the literary world is adapting…seems this has been a long time coming, so where are we? Where is our presence? Poetry in particular seems well suited to this medium…complications of line breaks and visuals aside.

    Like you, Evie, I listen to a lot of poetry on my iPod and my laptop: a lot of fiction too, and nonfiction and also lectures–the Euro Grad School lectures etc. I don’t see it as replacing but augmenting other forms of reading. I also use a lot of recorded work in my classroom.

    Thanks for the tip about Kindle–I’ll check it out. I do like the “notes and highlight sections” in Stanza, but one big negative about all the varying ways of engaging (apps and formats) and writing is a dispersal of my own ideas and notes in various formats–so no, I don’t want to annotate a text in Stanza because I lose all those notes….if that makes sense. I think this is part of why I resist Kindle too.

    More later I suspect, and more posts relating to these questions as well.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm Don Share wrote:

    One thing to be said for Kindle (now including Kindle for iPhone and the Touch) – Anatomy of Melancholy is a free book on that thing! But no, I don’t have one… Stay tuned for an iPhone app for Poetry magazine. (I don’t have an iPhone, either, though.) Like some of the other folks commenting, I still prefer to lug around books. Should we start a thread on The Books We Carry??

  • On January 11, 2010 at 11:20 am Tom Thompson wrote:

    I’ve got stanza, kobo, kindle and the bn apps on my ipod touch but I’ve given up trying to read poems there b/c of the line break issue. The deal here is money: No company’s going to invest in it b/c there’s not enough money in it. Even successful non-profits don’t have enough money to try to open up this channel for poets. The numbers aren’t enough to justify the P&L. Here’s to Poetry Foundation for leading the way. But the time has come for a small press to figure this one out.

  • On January 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks Eric,
    I have to try DocumentsToGo…I’m assuming that’s for my iPod. I was able, recently, to go through the proofs of a new book on my iPod, which was actually very convenient…

  • On January 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    I’m with you–I really think this is a huge opportunity. (Hello out there?!)

  • On January 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    I think so Don, that is in my queue of posts to come.

  • On January 11, 2010 at 3:07 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

    I’ve got a Sonia Sanchez lecture from the Naropa Poetics Archive…

  • On January 11, 2010 at 7:48 pm csperez wrote:

    hey sina,

    such a great topic! i dont read on my iphone, but i love to listen to poetry on it. i subscribe via itunes to poem talk & to the podcasts here on the poetry foundation. i also like to listen to pennsound on my iphone when i’m at the gym or driving. i must say, because i read so much poetry & criticism on the page it’s really nice to just listen to poets reading or poets discussing poetry aloud (am currently listening to the susan howe class visit just out on pennsound). gives my eyes a break!


  • On January 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Oh, I’m all over the podcasts, a post on those…suddenly everything is a post, saving that for a post…

Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, January 9th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.