The latest act of literary campaigning from English PEN is to publish Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison by Enoh Meyomesse.
Enoh has been an opposition activist in Cameroon for decades. In 2012 he stood in the presidential elections against authoritarian strong-man Paul Biya. Soon after he was arrested for apparently trying to organise a coup. The authorities later dropped that accusation, and instead manufactured trumped up charges of robbery. There were no witnesses to this alleged crime, yet he was convicted anyway. PEN International consider the conviction and imprisonment to be a violation of Enoh Meyomesse’s right to freedom of expression.
While in prison, Enoh was able to write and publish Poème Carcéral, a collection of poetry. We at PEN put a call out to our members for volunteer translators, and managed to get the book translated into English. This month I designed a cover graphic, and published the book as a print-on-demand paperback, available from Lulu.com. E-book versions (both ePub and Kindle) are also available for download.
I am particularly pleased that we were able to publish the book under a creative commons licence. Enoh Meyomesse is in prison and this publication is intended to give him a voice once more. The creative commons licence encourages further translation, remixing and performance of the poems, amplifying what once was censored.
I enjoyed this short essay promoting Lauren Leto’s book. It’s honest and (I assume) true to the book it seeks to promote.
It’s also presented in an interesting manner, native to the digital world. I wonder if would be as engaging if it were on a couple of pages (either printed or HTML). Probably not.
This type of presentation is not new. Last year Robin Sloane created a ‘tap essay’ called Fish that was published as an iPhone app. Like Leto’s essay, there is no back button, which (according to this Wired review by David Dobbs) provokes the reader to read more closely.
Two is a trend.Vine, the new social media app that allows you to post 6 sec video clips, has a square format. The videos are in a 1:1 aspect ratio. This follows Instagram, the popular photo sharing app that gives the user focus and colour filters to improve their images.
This trend arrives just at the time when wide-screen has become the standard, default aspect-ratio of choice for both video and TV. The footage generated by Apple iPhones, other cutting edge phone technologies, and the latest video cameras, all seem to be on the 2:1 ratio. Before the move to High Definition, TV and camcorder footage was all 4:3.
Why the change to 1:1 for Instagram and Vine? Perhaps because the ratio evokes Large Format photography. This conveys a seriousness, a permenance, and a respect for the art of photography… a useful quality to communicate in the ephermeral, digital world of online image sharing.
I admit I have bouts of sentiment for the printed page. In general, however, I allow my head to rule my heart in thse matters. The China Mieville quote I posted a few days ago persuades me that we don’t really need to fetishize print.