Poet Billy Collins had an unsettling experience when he downloaded his latest book of verse on an Amazon Kindle. The e-reader squished his lines to fit the screen. Collins told Marketplace:
Poetry comes in lines, like gasoline comes in gallons. If you wanted the name of the creature that is the poet, they are like homo linearium — they’re like line-making creatures. And that’s what we do, we make lines. Charles Olson, the poet, said no line must sleep, every line in a poem should be wakeful to the lines around it. And when you put a poem on a Kindle, the lines are broken in order to fit on the screen. And so instead of being the poet’s decision, it becomes the device’s decision…. You know to a poet, it’s quite ruinous to have a poem distorted, out of shape, or squeezed, shall we say, into this tiny screen. But I’m not sure big digital companies are sensitive to the needs of poets. I mean I know the rest of the population of America isn’t, so why should they be? I’m all for poetry catching up with technology, and just as there are iTunes, I think we should have iPoems. I mean people should be able to walk around with their earbuds in and listening to poems on their iPod. And poems are perfect for something to listen to while you’re walking around, because they don’t take very long.
Collins said in an AP story (via Yahoo News): “The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break.”