Shelley liked the crumbly legs of Ozymandias and Yeats was wild about Innisfree – let’s face it: most poets are fond of fading places.
Now Australian poets can write and read about them on their smartphones.
Not-for-profit poetry organisation The Red Room Company has released an app that pays tribute to Australia’s hidden spaces and historic sites.
The Disappearing app, which is free to download for iPhone, iPad and Android owners, uses an interactive map to acquaint readers, travellers and poets with new works inspired by places of historic and personal import. The app, which will feature videos of readings and interviews with poets, also allows users to add their own poems to the project.
Over 100 poems have already been uploaded to the Sydney map, and Red Room Company artistic director Johanna Featherstone expects to see more.
“We’ve launched The Disappearing with poems about Sydney, but we really want to see poems that explore places, people and things all over the country.
“Through The Disappearing, hundreds of poets are themselves deciding on what to remember, which is important in itself.”
Poets can record their location and upload poems via the app, which The Red Room hopes to see evolve throughout the country.
Featherstone says settling upon the app format for the project was “a natural decision”.
“[I]t suited our conception of the project as an anthology that morphs and grows, rather than one that begins and ends in a dust jacket.
“We’re as ambivalent about the future of the book as anyone, but we wanted to throw something new in the mix, to try some of the new possibilities having a tiny computer on us at all times affords us.”
The Red Room Company, in conjunction with Historic Houses Trust (HHT), also commissioned five Australian poets and performers–Nick Bryant-Smith, Jill Jones, Martin Harrison, Astrid Lorange and Lorna Munro – to create works inspired by HHT buildings.
Nick Bryant-Smith, one half of Sydney’s hip-hop duo Horrorshow, says the commission was a way for him to consider more deeply some of the issues he’d already begun to ponder surrounding identity and place.
“After some overseas travelling last year it hit me that there is so much I don’t know about the narratives and characters involved in Australia’s own history and development, and that I think that’s really true for lots of Australians.
“I think as we grow older as a nation it’s important we start talking about this stuff more, so we can reflect on how it’s shaped today and maybe trace back the origins of some of the more negative aspects of our society so we can understand how to address them.”
Featherstone says one of the main impetuses for The Disappearing was to undermine the often all-consuming nature of historical narrative.
“’History is generally created in a linear fashion by those in a position of privilege. I thought there was a great opportunity, even a need, for a new kind of history, one created by those outside authority, which poets definitely are.
“We were also specifically interested in working with some of our many brilliant Indigenous poets, and the theme of ‘The Disappearing’ has a particular poignancy when considered in the context of colonial history.”
She says presenting ‘The Disappearing’ in an app format addresses “the conundrum of technological advancement”, while also providing a unique space for writers to engage with one another.
“[I]n some ways, technology encourages us to forget a way of life,” says Featherstone. “Whether our ambivalence about technological change is warranted is part of what the project’s about.
“Our goal is for poets to create meaningful interactions between poets and the community, in unusual ways, whatever they may be.”
Poet Jill Jones, who wrote on Sydney’s colonial Elizabeth Bay House for The Disappearing, says the app format allows for a collaborative exploration of poetic methodology.
“An app is a technology, and all writing uses technology – pens and pencils, keyboards, paper, etc. I don’t think an app is the be-all and end-all, but it clearly can work with text, image and sound in a geo-locative sense.”
Jones, who explores origins, shifting borders and exploration in her own work, says she hopes the interactive space created by the app will see the creation of a dialogue and “a space opened up around text and place”.
“I would hope that users might see the place I’ve written about in different ways, and think about how it links to, or differs from, their own experience. And to see what language does in making something of a place.”
Featherstone hopes The Disappearing app will inspire poets and readers to think more deeply about the fading of things – both in our landscape and in society.
“The process of ‘disappearing’ is inimical to existing, to change,” she says. “Humans feel a lot of anxiety about what’s left behind, particularly now that the rate of change not just in our physical environment, but in our social institutions and culture, is so greatly accelerated.
“But, it’s not our job to make any kind of call on whether change – or the total obsolescence – is good or bad. It’s The Red Room Company’s business to provoke people into new ways of thinking about things, and we wanted to encourage readers and poets to consider the world and their work with this theme in mind. Through The Disappearing, hundreds of poets are themselves deciding on what to remember, which is important in itself.”
The Disappearing app can be downloaded free of charge for iPhones, iPads and Androids from The Red Room Company.