This is a guest post by Pete Hebden, a PhD student at Newcastle University, currently undertaking a practice-led PhD; researching and creating a poetry app. Pete has recently completed a three month placement in Contemporary British Published Collections at the British Library, where he assisted curators working with the UK Web Archive, artists books and emerging formats collections, you can follow him on Twitter as @Pete_Hebden.
As part of my PhD research, I have been investigating how writers and publishers have used smartphone and tablet devices to present poetry in new ways through mobile apps. In particular, I’m interested in how these new ways of presenting poetry compare to the more familiar format of the printed book. The mobile device allows poets and publishers to create new experiences for readers, incorporating location-based features, interactivity, and multimedia into the encounter with the poem.
Since the introduction of smartphones and tablet computers in the early 2010s, a huge range of digital books, e-literature, and literary games have been developed to explore the possibilities of this technology for literature. Projects like Ambient Literature and the work of Editions at Play have explored how mobile technology can transform story-telling and narrative, and similarly my project looks at how this technology can create new experiences of poetic texts.
Below are a few examples of poetry apps released over the past decade. For accessibility reasons, this selection has been limited to apps that can be used anywhere and are free to download. Some of them present work written with the mobile device in mind, while others take existing print work and re-mediate it for the mobile touchscreen.
Dutch developers Studio Louter worked with multiple poets to create this gamified approach to reading poetry. Existing poems are turned into puzzles to be unlocked by the reader word-by-word as they use patterns and themes within each text to figure out where each word should go. The result is that often new meanings and possibilities are noticed that might have been missed in a traditional linear reading experience.
This video explains and demonstrates how the Puzzling Poetry app works:
Translatory (iOS, 2016)
This app, created by Arc Publications, guides readers in creating their own English translations of contemporary foreign-language poems. Using the digital display to see multiple possible translations of each phrase, the reader gains a fresh understanding of the complex work that goes into literary translation, as well as the rich layers of meaning included within the poem. Readers are able to save their finished translations and share them through social media using the app.
At nearly a decade old, the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry app was one of the first mobile apps dedicated to poetry, and has been steadily updated by the editors of Poetry magazine ever since. It contains a huge array of both public-domain work and poems published in the magazine over the past century. To help users find their way through this, Poetry’s developers created an entertaining and useful interface for finding poems with unique combinations of themes through a roulette-wheel-style ‘spinner’. The app also responds to users shaking their phone for a random selection of poem.
ABRA: A Living Text (iOS, 2014)
A collaboration between the poets Amaranth Borsuk and Kate Durbin, and developer Ian Hatcher, the ABRA app presents readers with a range of digital tools to use (or spells to cast) on the text, which transform the text and create a unique experience for each reader. A fun and unusual way to encounter a collection of poems, giving the reader the opportunity to contribute to an ever-shifting, crowd-edited digital poem.
This artistic video below demonstrates how the ABRA app works. Painting your finger and thumb gold is not required!
I hope you feel inspired to check out these poetry apps, or maybe even to create your own.