When Walt Whitman wrote that he saw the musicality of “Mannahatta” nested in “numberless crowded streets–high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,” he probably never imagined that poetry could, well, literally be embedded in city streets.
Thanks to the imagination of Josh Fisher, a former English major who graduated smack-dab in the middle of the financial crisis, poetry will be able to alert you to its geographical presence on a mobile device. Fisher’s “Chicago Poets” app, designed for the windy city, allows poets to upload pieces at certain coordinates, and readers to pick up those poems when they walk by.
“We spend all day being bombarded with billboards for Tide or Pepsi or Coke,” Fisher told Co.Exist. “And wouldn’t it be nice for once to instead of getting a commercial message, to instead get this–like here’s a little encapsulated moment of beauty for you to enjoy as you’re walking down the sidewalk,” he said.
The poetry magazine app, which is still in beta, alerts a user’s phone to an uploaded piece when that user passes over the GPS coordinates where it was uploaded. As for the format of the poem, Fisher says it’s “70% to 80% creative freedom”–meaning if someone was HTML-savvy enough, he or she could make e.e. cummings-esque poems with words and punctuation scattered across the screen, or if the writer wanted to create an unstable narrator in a story, say, he or she could have whole paragraphs disappear at random.
This isn’t Fisher’s first go at poetry apps. Earlier this year he created “What We Mean,” a digital poetry chapbook of sorts, made up of letters Fisher’s grandfather wrote his grandmother during World War II. Fisher used a blackout style to redact parts of the poem and create new meanings, inviting the user to experiment as well. His company, appoet.org, seeks to usher in more literary applications of mobile technology–directing users to immersive, creative experiences outside the typical short attention span.
“It’s not a Facebook wall post, it’s not a Reddit thing, it’s not Flickr,” Fisher said. “I want to give new life to street corners. I want to give new life to parks and monuments, to let people see the narratives behind the place.”
As long as it’s not another QR code advertising splashy discounts, this could be a neat way to invite art into the mobile space. To learn more about it, head here.