One of the oddities of web publishing is that some things are extremely easy and some things are not. Some obvious things are obviously not easy, such as video. (About three weeks ago, we shot a video that will be about 30 seconds long; the shoot was three people working for about four hours, and it is still in edits.) But one thing that is not obviously not easy is often poetry. Poets type in Microsoft Word or on typewriters (for real), almost exclusively, and often their work is fundamentally attached to presentation. Or more than that really: their work must be presented in the manner that they have agreed upon with the editor. Presentation is easy for the home user with typewriters or Word. You just hit the spacebar, or you set some margins or indents, and then you do whatever you want. The web does not do this. For poetry on the web, we have hand-inserted hundreds and hundreds of non-breaking spaces within a single poem; we have eyeballed and measured; we have hacked together weird bits of (probably pretty bad) code to make things look the way poets intended. The web doesn’t really always want to do this. In particular, the joy of CSS is that it’s intended to make everything work the same all the time, which of course then tends to hammer down all nails. You can make it all the same, but making it different gets hard, and some things you can’t make at all. On the web we cannot even really—without extreme wonkery—flow text between two adjacent columns, like you would in any normal magazine or book assembled in digital pre-press. Today’s poem, by Sherman Alexie, which is amazing and who is amazing, took the minds of four people a few hours to get right, if you can believe that, and I barely can, because you wouldn’t even notice, which is part of the point, and also that’s sort of embarrassing to even admit, but it was totally worth it.
I’ve tried to talk about this with poets in workshops and man, oh man, do people not get it. But I’m really excited that people are actually talking about the technicalities of publishing poetry on the web. Shit is interesting and needs to be discussed/taught (especially by young poets).