I vividly remember the last day of my first year writing course. My professor walked in carrying a large bag, and then he dumped a bunch of poetry books on his desk. He told us that we were each allowed to take one home. I remember being one of the only students excited about obtaining a free book. I decided to pick up one of the copies of The Grey Islands by John Steffler . There was something about the cover (a picture of a trail of trash up a mountain), the odd orange pages that enclosed the poetry, and the thick paper that the words were written on, that drew me to it.
We’ve been talking a lot in class about how we can digitize literary works. But I can’t seem to imagine a book of poetry being read online. By reading poetry online, you lose the feeling of flipping through the pages, and seeing different images of words. Part of the magic of reading poetry is finding a poem that catches your eye before you even read it. The visual aspect of poetry becomes lost when it’s on a screen.
I think of digitized art as the postcards they sell in gift shops: mass produced, only a dollar, the perfect gift for someone who couldn’t see the gallery in person. Just as a postcard has its pros and cons, so do digital spaces. A digital space can offer a wide range of information on literature and art that you are unable to obtain or see in person. The Rossetti Archive is a great tool because it reveals information on Rossetti’s poems and pictures that are not only easy to access, but also reveal information that has never been revealed before. A site like such is a scholar’s dream: “the book medium is physically incapable of the kinds of storing, integrating, and accessing operations we had held out as basic scholarly demand for the Archive” (McGann 285). Instead of spending hours at the library trying to find information on one poem, online resources are now available with all the information in one place.
I appreciate these online resources because they allow anyone to learn about the writers and artists they admire. Last year, I watched the film Children of Men in my film class. I had to write an analysis on the sequence titled “Ark of Arts”. This sequence showcased many famous artworks, such as Michelangelo’s David, and Picasso’s Guernica. I had already been to Florence and seen David, so I was able to feel what I had experienced on screen. However, I have yet to see Guernica. My parents have, and they told me it was nothing like how they portrayed it in the film. It is therefore difficult to really understand a work of art until you actually face it.
With that being said, I know how expensive it is to travel to Europe and see these masterpieces in person. That is why digital resources like Rossetti Archive offer the perfect insight for someone who is unable to experience the art in person. However, if you could afford a book of poetry, I’d recommend spending the extra time and money to flip through the pages, and experience the magic.
Jerome McGann, “Visible and Invisible Books: Hermetic Images in N-Dimensional Space,” Jerome McGann (U of Virginia: IATH, 1999)