“Poetry,” Italie writes, “the most precise and precious of literary forms, is also so far the least adaptable to the growing e-book market. A three-line stanza might be expanded to four if a line is too long or a four-line stanza compressed into three if the second and fourth lines have sharp indentations, as with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Hymn to the Night.”
Or as happened with some poems by Billy Collins when Collins took a look at his newest book on his Kindle. He found that, as he tells Italie, “if the original line is beyond a certain length, they will take the extra word and have it flush left on the screen, so that instead of a three-line stanza you actually have a four-line stanza. And that screws everything up.”
Collins goes on to say, rather poetically, that “prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break.”
Collins contributed two news poems to the latest issue of PEN America, “Horoscopes for the Dead,” parts I & II, and, as it happens, they begin with the experience of reading that great emblem of print, the newspaper—specifically, the horoscopes of a departed friend. I think I can reproduce their stanzas faithfully on this blog, so here’s how the first one begins:
Every morning since you fell down on the face of the earth,
I read about you in the newspaper
along with the box scores, the weather, and all the bad news.
Sometimes I am reminded that today
will not be a wildly romantic time for you,
nor will you be challenged by educational goals
nor will you need to be circumspect at the workplace.
Another day, I learn that you will miss
an opportunity to travel and make new friends
though you never cared much about either.
I can’t imagine you ever facing a new problemIn the second, he puts the paper away:
with a positive attitude, but you will definitely not
be doing that or anything like that on this weekday in March.
And the same goes for the fun
you might have gotten from group activities,
a likelihood attributed to everyone under your sign.
I am better off closing the newspaper,To read the rest—along with poems by Paul Muldoon, Anne Carson, and many others—you’ll have to pick up a printed copy of PEN America.
putting on the clothes I wore yesterday
(when I read that your financial prospects were looking up)
then pushing off on my copper-colored bicycle
and pedaling along the road by the shore of the bay.