I promised David Lehman I'd write about jazz, and I will, a bit later. But I thought I'd begin with some thoughts on a bit of po-biz news that intersects with another part of my professional life. I make a part of my living as a technology reporter for Publishers Weekly, for whom I've written many stories about the burgeoning E-book business over the past couple of years. It's recently come to my attention that the poetry and short fiction publisher BOA Editions, Ltd., has just made three of its book available for the Amazon Kindle e-reader device, which seems to be to be a good opportunity to think about the potential for e-books and the poetry scene.
(First, however, I should disclose that BOA is indeed publishing my next book in May, though no one at BOA told me that they had been working on producing Kindle editions of BOA books, and I found out when I happened to scan the BOAfacebook page (and we'll leave the intersection of poetry and social networking for another day). BOA is the first mostly-poetry press I know of to do Kindle books (though I know, too, thatGraywolf has begun to publish at least its fiction in electronic form), so BOA seems like a good place to start).
As you'll see here at the top of BOA's website, three books--collections of prose poems by Russell Edson and Nin Andrews, as well as a book of stories by Martha Ronk--are now available for the Kindle. And for only $7. Now I know that many a book person probably cringes at the thought of their precious books being reduced to ones and zeros, especially precious poetry books, which are more like talismans to ward off ignorance and existential loneliness than bound stacks of papers. I'm the same way, believe me. I LOVE my books. One of my favorite things is to fall asleep with a book on my chest--sometimes, I'm not even reading the damn thing: I just put the closed book on my chest and close my eyes. Books are warm and friendly; electronic files are abstract and confusing (though I would think a Kindle or Sony reader is at least slightly warm, electronic as it is).
But then, the Internet has made this, I'd think, the most literate moment in history. We spend more of our time than ever reading various kinds of texts, researching our interests, commenting. I can't help but think that's a very good thing. Sure, we're less tempted to actually speak to other people, but unless you're very weird, you still do (if you are weird, you probably found a way of not speaking to people well before the Internet came along to help). One the whole, I think Google and others' efforts to put books online is absolutely necessary--we need to have the sum-total as it were of our knowledge archived and made accessible to anyone who wants it.
I don't know if e-reader devices are here to stay. My guess is that in a few years, we'll have computers with screens as flexible as fruit roll-ups that we can fold out of our pockets and do all the reading and writing we want. But they're here now, and I'm glad to see some poetry, some new poetry, popping up on them. Let's face it--poetry don't make much money, it don't sell in huge quantities, and it takes up space in distributors' warehouses while it isn't selling, making those distributors less amenable to carrying more poetry in the future. E-books of poetry can solve these problems. Plus, once poetry goes out of print, the demand is often too small to warrant another printing. I, for instance, would love it if there were e-books, say, of the entire now-defunct U of Georgia contemporary poetry series. Or of all the past Yale winners books. Why, for instance, can't I get my hands on a copy of Bridget Pegeen Kelly's Yale winning debut. If I could, as an e-books, you can bet I'd shell out $7 for it.
That said, I think the best use for standalone e-books readers like the Kindle is for periodicals. What I would LOVE is to see literary magazines go electric. I would love to read them on screen, rather than read them once and then watch them pile up all over the house. And chapbooks could have a nice life as digital editions too--their distribution is often too small and local.
Now, I'm not advocating that we scrap paper poetry books by any means, I only wish I saw more poetry publishers thinking about the potential of e-books for our little poetry world. I think a lot could be accomplished.
Now, I'll say more about jazz later in the week, but for today I'll offer some recommended listening. I've been a bit obsessed with Louis Armstrong lately, having just finished reading a forthcoming biography of him called POPS by TerryTeachout , which I'm reviewing. It's hard, especially for the youngsters among us, to put Armstrong in perspective. He was a superstar at a time before superstars, and a musical innovator who can now sound a bit quaint and un -edgy. But, if one can keep one's ears open, the music is pretty awesome. So, may I submit for your approval this album: LOUIS ARMSTRONG PLAYS W.C. HANDY. This is probably the trumpeter's best mid-late career record, his versions of songs by one of the fathers of the blues, recorded with his All-Stars, the small group he played with for about the last third of his career. The songs--boisterous instrumentals, with lovely sung passages by Armstrong and his group's female vocalist whose name I can't now conjure--are surprisingly hard-hitting and deep if ultimately joyful. I downloaded my copy digitally--MP3s strike me as by far the best way to distribute music, for what it's worth. It's good listening for what seems like the first real day of fall. Talk to you tomorrow.