• Staying Alive

Staying Alive

I love being able to buy ebooks from indie bookstores using Kobo. I’d estimate that 85% of my reading is digital these days. As someone well-acquainted with the Interlibrary Loan System at my local library and also the agonizing wait for a bookstore to order a book I need to read NOW (3 days = agonizing) there is nothing like instantly finding and buying and reading that necessary book immediately.

But there is one genre that I have difficulty reading electronically – poetry.

Inside staying alive

Most of the poetry I read is short, which seems perfect for a mobile device. But I find I need a printed page to help me experience the act of reading the words. I have to see the whole poem at once, on the page, how it looks, where the line breaks are, how the letters bump up against each other and vibrate against the white space. I need to be able to flip back and forth to see how many poems there are per section, refer constantly to the section titles, see how each poem relates to the one before or after it or at the other end of the volume.

I just can’t get a grip on the digital version of a book of poetry. Maybe it’s because so much of what I read on my phone (my primary reading device) is fleeting – tweets and posts and comments and information easily digested because that’s what it’s made for – instant consumption. So my brain, when reading poetry on that same device – just can’t latch on. I skim over the words and feel completely disconnected from their intent.

This is all a long way around to saying I’ve been trying to read more poetry lately and discover more poets and take the time to stop and really READ something, listen to it and let it sink in. It’s resulted in me revisiting one of my favorite poetry books – STAYING ALIVE, originally published in the UK but published in the US by Miramax Books, oh, about 11 years ago.

Staying alive

My two favorite things about picking up this book and holding it are:

1. Remembering the feeling after 9/11 when this book was published — poetry was suddenly extremely important in everyone’s life it seemed. Poetry was the only thing that could explain anything in that difficult and searching time. Which is a theme of the book – that we all turn to poetry when we have huge life moments that defy easy explanation. But when I hold this book, I actually remember how it felt to hold it a decade ago. I don’t think I do that with any but my most beloved books. And with this one, I just look at the cover and I’m transported to that place.

2. The cover. For some reason, there was a big deal about this cover image. I was in an internal book launch meeting when this title was discussed (Miramax was then distributed by Hyperion, where I worked, and I handled some rights for Miramax titles) and I remember that the editor was stressing how he felt the cover had to stay the same as the UK version, that the girl’s image was striking, despite some criticism it had received. Even today you can read a positive review of the book that mentions its “morose cover.”

But I am certain I think of this book as often as I do precisely because of its cover. I am grateful no one intervened to change it.

Miramax brand
(And can we have a moment of appreciation for the genius that is the Miramax branding on their books? I remember that people complained about the red band that wrapped around the spine and appeared as a red square on every book cover, no matter what the book was about or its cover image and design. Other than imprint logos on the spine or series covers that were the same, the Miramax red square was the first bit of blatant publisher branding I’d encountered, and now I see it everywhere, at publishers small and large.)

So I’ll keep holding this book. And staying alive. And reading poetry. Even on my phone sometimes. Why not at least try, right?


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