Redefining poetry in a brave new mobile age

Posted by Trent Nouveau

A Concordia University professor has developed new methods of poetic expression using specially designed mobile apps.

Known as P.o.E.M.M., short for Poems for Excitable [Mobile] Media, Jason Lewis is overseeing a project where poems are written and designed to be read on touch devices, from large-scale exhibition surfaces to mobile screens.



"Poetry has been following the rules for centuries. From the strict structure of the haiku to the rhythmic rhyme of the ballad, verse can be daunting to both professional poets and amateur auteurs," Lewis explained.

 "[Yet] poems are also media for the masses."

For Lewis, the fact that the iPhone and iPad are personal devices was key in P.o.E.M.M.'s development.

"Poetry is an intimate medium but when it comes to digital poetry, the computer screen creates distance between writer and reader. Touch screens allow the audience to be drawn into a closer proximity to the computer screen than ever before," said Lewis, whose first digital poetry project for a touch-screen interface was created back in 2007, when the iPhone was in its infancy.

That artwork eventually went on to inspire the entire P.o.E.M.M. project, which so far includes four apps: What They Speak When They Speak To Me, Buzz Aldrin Doesn't Know Any Better, The Great Migration, and Smooth Second Bastard, which was released on June 26. 

The first version of each app is built around Lewis's poetry, but then each is extended to include texts by other poets, who write about themes ranging from miscommunication across language and cultural identity to the excitement of heading out into a great unknown.

Released as separate applications available for download through iTunes, and developed in collaboration with former computation arts student Bruno Nadeau, the P.o.E.M.M. apps allow readers to interact with the poem's text. 

New iterations of the apps will give users the chance to add their own words, use Twitter feeds to generate new strands of poetry, and to play with words, design and structure to generate original poems that can be rewritten at the tap of a screen.

Although it has yet to hit the halfway mark, the P.o.E.M.M. project is already generating positive feedback, having been awarded the Jury Award for the Electronic Literature Organization's annual exhibition.



"It was an honor to be selected for the award," adds Lewis. “It's great to have this recognition from the electronic literature community as a whole. Hopefully the apps will continue to garner positive attention as we round them out to an even ten."