Thursday, 2 June 2011



A Poet Struggles with New Technology
Poets often passionately resist ebook presentation of their work, thereby largely limiting its exposure to print copies signed and sold at readings and other cozy events.

As a result, poetry books, traditionally, suffer low circulation, sometimes confined to author circle gifts or sales you can count on the fingers of two hands.

Most publishers won’t touch poetry because of its fiscally dismal track record. And poets (not all of them up-to-snuff by any means) flood the internet with online offerings. We, however, feel it of vital cultural importance and will do all we can to promote the popularity of top-drawer poetic works, selected and nurtured by one of the best poetry editors in the world, Sam Smith.

But, financial modesty apart, like all artists poets crave universal appreciation. To achieve this they must embrace the new ebook technology rather than resist it ... even if it does sometimes mean a few minor concessions to layout style. But the need for radical adaptation to accommodate e-poetry books ain’t necessarily so.

Those poets concerned about how their work may appear in ebook form should watch  this short video. BeWrite Books tech and design director, Tony Szmuk, is demonstrating here how two upcoming BeWrite Books poetry anthologies will appear in industry standard ePub editions on an iPad.

You'll clearly see how Tony’s careful text design and file preparation can faithfully reproduce even the mildly eccentric layout favoured by some:

Other reading platforms and devices – from PC and laptop screens, through the range of 100+ ebook-dedicated reading devices, to iPods and mobile phones – have different features. Some are  as sophisticated as the iPad virtual page scrolling (with the option for elderly and worn-looking pages and even audio effects to reproduce the turning of a page and crinkling of paper, if you want to go the whole hog), others,  more so.

 Yet others, like my old Sony PRS 505, for instance, have no fancy bells and whistles, but the pages display exactly as shown in this short film. 

And if you have a stylish soft-leather cover for your reader, as I do, it feels, looks and even smells like one of those precious volumes the local library won’t let you take home.

But we’ve noted recently that there’s a real ‘tablet’ revolution rumbling out there – better, lighter, cheaper devices are popping up in the news and in the stores almost daily; especially ‘android’ tablets that can read books from anywhere in pretty well any digital format simply by downloading a free or cheap extra viewing channel.

And, always ahead of the game, we’re now looking at embedding appropriate (but always author-approved) audio and video in some selected BB ePub editions now that the tablet technology is available and the new ePub 3 programme will very soon be open to us. I guess we’ll call these e-ebooks … ‘enhanced electronic books’.

Gosh, chums, the possibilities are endless. Readers will be able to not only read a BB poetry anthology but to click on the title of a favourite poem and hear the author or a talented actor read it out loud. The possibility for fiction and non-fiction is likewise mind-boggling. Anyway, forgive my burst of teenaged enthusiasm … back to the point:

Tony produced this video especially to show BeWrite Books’ poetry editor, Sam – a talented, hugely experienced, widely published and popular poet in his own right, but in some ways very much the traditionalist – the result when a book of poems is carefully and expertly handled page-by-page (a la BB) rather than through an automated file conversion process.

Did it change his mind? Bet your boots it did. folks ...

Sam Smith
Sam said yesterday: “Consider me sold! The video convinced me. I now think we poets have to rise to the challenge of ebooks, to see them as an opportunity to create a new kind of poetry delivery.

“Already at BeWrite I have suggested that poets left-justify their text and avoid fancy and complex fonts so that there will be least interference with the layout/line breaks when a Kindle user with waning eyesight, say, changes the text size himself at the touch of a key for easier reading.

“But what will lend itself even more perfectly to ebook publication is prose poetry, Howard Good’s recent Heart with a Dirty Windshield, for instance, is an excellent example.

“That said; check out the creative layout in Kirsten Holmes’ forthcoming collection Stick Figures as painstakingly prepared by Tony and as can be seen in this impressive and short video.“

“Poetry already has many different delivery points – print, oral, concrete poetry, slams, jazz poetry, cabaret poetry, the net … Now to make best use of this new opportunity.”

Magdalena Ball
Fiction author, poet and reviewer, Magdalena Ball, recently saw her Repulsion Thrust poetry anthology published by BeWrite Books in print and all ebook editions.

She said: “I had always been a traditionalist myself, believing that nothing could ever compete with a beautiful stitched book you could hold in your hand. My house is full of them. They’re stacked three-deep on overloaded bookshelves.

“But since I got a proper e-ink ebook reading device, the only difference between reading a beautifully formatted e-book or a similarly formatted tree-book is that the e-book is more portable ... and a reading device can contain an entire library.

“Wonderful poetry loses none of its power or beauty in electronic format.  Of course, poetry doesn’t lend itself to automated ‘meat grinder’ conversions easily, especially if highly formatted.  That’s why a traditional publishing company like BeWrite Books, which is well ahead in ebook technology, is critical.

“There’s no substitute for BB’s proper hand-formatting of each title so that the words follow author intention, regardless of which viewer is being used.

“So quite simply, as a poet, I’m thrilled that there’s a medium which is re-invigorating and exciting the reading public, and I don’t see poetry as being any less appropriate for the ebook revolution than any other genre.

“As a reader, I’ll take my poetry in both print and electronic format, and will continue to lose myself in the rhythm, structure and power of the words. It’s all good.”

Tony Szmuk
Tony Szmuk – himself a life-long lover of fine poetry and literature in several languages – said: “Sam was a hard sell. He, Neil, Hugh McCraken and I have been arguing the toss of the relevance of poetry to the digital age with him for a year or more.

“But, traditionalist that he may be, Sam has a sharp eye for future developments, as his own poetry and much of his fiction reveals. He admitted to never having seen poetry displayed on a dedicated ebook reader, so this video was intended to show him.

“We were thrilled by his enthusiastic reaction. Quite honestly, we’d rather lose ebook poetry than risk losing Sam over a policy disagreement. So sighs of relief could be heard around the world when Sam said ‘let’s give it a fair crack o’ the whip’.

“The secret is quite simply this – understanding and co-operation.

“It takes me much, much longer to prepare poetry for ebook editions than it does for fiction in digital form, both in terms of text design and technologically. The poet can help by understanding some of the difficulties – some of the things currently available technology can’t handle – and, without in any way compromising his intent, finding creative ways to lay out his words in practical way.

“Meeting the challenge of ‘complexity’ takes me time, but I love it and don’t begrudge a moment’s effort. The currently (but not for long) ‘impossible’ is quite another matter. That’s a frustration to me and, ultimately, a disappointment to the poet ... until the technology catches up, as it tends to with breathtaking speed and vigour.” 

The two upcoming BeWrite Books poetry anthologies featured in Tony’s video are:

*Carolyn Oulton’s A Child, a Death and the Making of the Fairy Tale Woman, to be released next week (Friday June 10) in paperback and all ebook editions. It will be ‘officially’ launched at the Folkstone Book Festival in the UK in November.

*Stick Figures by Kirsten Holmes will be released on July 22, again in paperback and all digital formats.

PS: Sam Smith will be appearing at the Ilfracombe Arts Festival, UK (June 24-26).  Afternoons in ‘Transform’, then along with several other poets and songsters in the Britannia Inn at 8:00pm on the Friday. At 7:30pm on the Saturday he will be reading in the Epchris Hotel. For more details check out: THE FESTIVAL SITE.

Best wishes, love and luck to all. Neil Marr


  1. I never had any doubt that you guys at BeWrite could do it, even with difficult poems and layouts that defeat all but the most intrepid designer. Tony does a terrific job.

  2. Yep, there ain't too many Tonys in a pound, Rosanne. Neil