back when editors & typesetters, not poets, broke lines…?

This is very interesting from an e-poetry publishing perspective. Is the e-reader the new Gutenberg in this regard, and have we come full circle…? Wanda Coleman at the Poetry Foundation:

Does the (ah-hem) neophyte poet emerging in this century know that poets didn’t always break their own lines? Who broke them and how? Are those so-called lines and “enjambments” that some professors of poetry wax so eloquently about, truly the work of the creative writer? Or rather an editor with an eye for graphic design? Or a creative book designer? Or, more likely, a creative typesetter of eras past? Does the student or lover of poetry realize that those sainted breaths set in today’s literary stone, weren’t necessarily the work of said poet? Isn’t it tragic that amnesia regarding the art and attitude of printing poetry (we shall skip China and pick it up with Gutenberg, forward) allow many contemporary poets to mistakenly or deliberately take credit for their “appropriations” of old-timey line breaks authored by those long dead book designers and typesetters? Is it known that, occasionally, there are writers and poets who disdain the grunt work of breaking their own lines? Is it understood that they leave that literary labor to others—others who become invisible over time and prolonged worship?

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

4 thoughts on “back when editors & typesetters, not poets, broke lines…?”

  1. Hm, that makes me wonder (even more than I already do, that is) about Ted Hughes’s handling of Plath’s literary estate after her death. After burning one of her journals, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did break her lines. :-/

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