Poetry and eBooks

An interesting title, no? They arrived at my doorstep almost simultaneously this weekend so I thought that I would write about them. Firstly, the Massachusetts Poetry Festival was in Salem this weekend and like the last year, I volunteered. Volunteering is a great way to help out the Festival and to get into events for free! For those of you who don’t know, I really enjoy reading and writing poetry.* I look forward to the Festival every year and have gotten to see some great and favorite poets like Robert Pinsky, Nick Flynn, Terrance Hayes, and Sharon Olds. (Sharon Olds! I still get teary thinking about seeing her last year.)

Look at all these cool poets!
Look at all these cool poets!

This year I was working the Friday headlining event where Philip Levine and Carol Ann Duffy were reading. Poets Laureate of the U.S. (2011-2012) and the U.K. (appointed in 2009), respectively, I knew they were going to be amazing. They were so amazing. Philip Levine’s poem, “The Mercy” brought me to tears:

A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

Carol Ann Duffy read a lot from her book, The World’s Wife, which imagines the perspectives of the spouses and lovers of famous characters from folklore and mythology. I had never read her before, but I really enjoyed these and loved listening to her voice:

Here’s an excerpt from the middle of “Mrs. Midas” that I particularly liked:

Separate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream-milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So it was a lovely time and I ran into my college creative writing professor who reminded me to keep writing poems. He’s very kind and every time he sees me he tells me he loved my poems in class and to keep writing. I think I will, Mark. I think I will.

Finally, eBooks, you say? Anna aren’t you not that enthralled with eBooks? True, I am not, but I did buy a Kindle this weekend. I’ve been feeling like I need to be more agile with Overdrive and that it would be good for me to practice on a device of my own. Plus, after carrying A Dance with Dragons back and forth on the plane to Chicago, and in fact all around the airport when I was stranded in the polar vortex this January, something more portable seemed tempting.

And it was $50. I can do that.

I will probably only ever read library books on it, so I didn’t feel like I was opening a floodgate to book buying. Generally, I have some rules about buying books. If I’m going to buy them I must:

1. Intend on re-reading them
2. Think they are beautiful – this is why I have some strange vintage and antique books
3. Think they are sexy. Because you know books can be sexy and I think that it’s up to you to define what that means. (This is the loophole I use when I want a book but it doesn’t really fall into rules 1 and 2. It works out nicely.)

So getting a Kindle isn’t about curating nice bookshelves but rather about getting more handy with Overdrive to help my library patrons, and get convenient books while traveling. Somehow I still feel weird about my Kindle purchase and feel the need to stress, I still prefer print books! I swear! 

Where do you all fall on the print vs. ebook debate? While I do lean more toward the print end of things, I figure that anything that gets people reading is good for me!


*Not however, poetry about moons and love and sighing and rhyming but poetry about the small, everyday things like making pies, Michigan dirt roads, family. Just to be clear.

**Haha, postscript! WordPress just trying giving editing/grammatical suggestions on the sections of poetry by Levine and Duffy. Silly, WordPress, they are awesome poets and you are a computer. Just walk away.

7 thoughts on “Poetry and eBooks

  1. I agree that anything that encourages people to read is a good thing. Much to my surprise my preference is for ebooks these days (I was sure I would never love them!). It’s convenient, and I can buy more books for less money. It works for me.

  2. OMG! I had no idea you were a poet, too, Anna. I have to say that I’m really a former poet now, since I haven’t written anything in 10 years.
    I absolutely envy your location. The Massachusetts Poetry Festival sound amazing! (Sharon Olds is one of my favorites, too.)
    And just to chime in on the e-book vs print? I love both. But in The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe wrote this: “One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence…..they’ll confront you, and you’ll literally stumble over tomes you hadn’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.”

    Love, love, love this quote and have to agree with it. I often trip over books that I’ve kept by my bedside and usually it’s one that I’ve put off reading but nearly always love in the end, or am at least glad I read it. 🙂

    1. Yes, Holly, I guess I am a poet. I’ve really only ever had two poems published and maybe someday some more! It was a good festival this year and I was happy to be able to “discover” Carl Ann Duffy!
      I love that quote – and I literally just put that book on hold for someone – it’s so true! I love the presence of books; I love picking them up to feel their weight and paging through to read a favorite section! Poetry especially I could never read on ebook – it’s too physical. I need to be holding the paper for poetry.

  3. I am the (more or less) proud owner of an early kindle that I bought off of a fellow librarian.
    It’s collecting dust a drawer right about now because I go through phases with it. I find it easier to speed read on a kindle… and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
    And I *might* have a BPL e-card which gives one access to an overdtive collection that puts everyone in MVLC to shame. {looks askance}

    As someone who has one foot in historical collections land, I see the plus side of e-books. Take, for example, Sarah Loring Bailey’s “Historical Sketches of Andover” that was published in 1880. It is digitized in google books now, which means that the information inside will be preserved long after the books disintegrate. If a reader or researcher can’t handle a book because of its fragility, what good is the book?

    1. Yes, there is always the question of digitization and how that is so important for researchers for the future! And I totally have a BPL eCard, too, and tell others to get one, too!!

  4. It seems like most “power readers” don’t see the issue as either/or (“print vs. e-books”), but as both. E-books have their strengths: You can bring ten of them on a trip and not be carrying twenty extra pounds of reading material. (However, if your e-reader breaks or runs out of battery, you can’t access those ten or howevermany books.) E-books and e-readers are great for convenience (though there’s that inconvenient DRM issue), but I don’t think paper books are going away. There’s some research that indicates that comprehension and retention is higher when we read in print instead of on a screen (even an e-ink screen). And of course there are those of us who will never stop buying books because of the tactile nature of them – the cover art, the weight of them, the places where the pages fall open, the ability to flip through to the place you’re looking for, etc. It’s not one or the other; it’s both.

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