Keegan and Eagelman: Save Civilization with GeoPoems!


My friend Victor Keegan was the technology columnist for The Guardian for many years. Now, he’s making Apps. In fact, his App “City Poems” is kicking some social media – or perhaps, literary – butt. The App will alert you through GPS to your proximity in yards (in London) to poems written within the buildings you pass: like a lovely literary ghost.

In March, Vic and I, two great friend, went to see an exhibition when I was visiting London. And, THAT was the first time we had met in person. We were, most certainly, the best of “letter writing” friends. Yup, we met on Facebook a few years ago, and in that glow of past times of connection and friendship we shared:

–       two manuscripts

–       loads of our own poems

–       tales of our families and our children

And, never did we meet.

It was old school, totally clean, no flirting, straight up literary friendship. It was a joy!

And, so, I think it rather fabulous that my poet buddy – a la technology journalist – has gone all “Appy”.  I also think it’s ironic that our friendship, born out of the connective tissue of a social network (a place without place, a country of it’s own, a place with no actual touch) has me wanting to go walking with his family – with our phones out in London – to get to know each other (and poets!) in real-time.

Vic was recently interviewed by Ian McMillian on BBC . They talked a great deal about “geo poems”. Don’t you love that?!  I do. Who would have thought we’d be talking about poetry related to geolocation – and not just about the place of the poem within it’s own verse? Vic was – smart guy.  His hope is that between Google noting ALL the literature there ever was, and Geo Poems living in phones, that the literature that gets lost because it gets lost out of the cannon, or simply is forgotten, can gain relevance in a time that so values “place”: the place we are in the seconds we are there.

A few months ago I heard David Eagleman speak at the Long Now here in San Francisco. Eagleman is a wonderful writer and neuroscientist.

His lecture was called, “Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization”.  What a relief to learn there are only six! The one that I liked a great deal (though I did groove on his hilarious suggestions, “Don’t cough on each other” and “Minimize tyranny”) was that by capturing our cultural documents in the virtual realm, well, they won’t burn! And, when scrolls, documents, cultural manuscripts BURN cultures tend to dissapear.  He added, let’s just hope the servers don’t crash. Ok, good point.

So, all of these GeoPoems in Vic’s “City Poems” represent something I am starting to see as mass cultural curation.  We are curating the story of our times, while ALSO curating our physical experience in the world.

The numbers are also good (considering it’s poetry which is the most ephemeral and has the hardest time helping its writer make a living…) City Poems sold 700 apps in the first few weeks.  Vic is hilarious, he thinks this is either, “pathetic in view of the billions of phones out there…not bad considering it (the app) is only on later versions of the iPhone which has only 1% of the market”. Though, let’s put this in context, people are BUYING poems, and Vic could cover his costs and the capital recouped, and, he is his own poetry bookstore: that geolocates!

So, good on you, Vic. As Eagleman might suggest, you are saving civilization! And, if the bricks of an old building within London could talk, she might say you were sharing the words born within her as people pass by.

Sarah Kornfeld
Sarah E. Kornfeld is a writer and hybrid communications executive for those innovating in art/ social sharing/biosphere/and neuroscience initiatives. Her blog on trends and creative visions is widely read: what sarah sees . Born and raised in the theater, Sarah's worldview is shaped by creation in public spaces. She's deeply passionate about applied neuroscience and it's impact on policy and place, how art and international issues intersect, and her groovy seven year old son.

Sarah works with The George Greenstein Institute, The Institute for the Future, Bluemind/Liveblue and other organizations bridging the mind, planet and health issues. She was an original member of the producing team for Dancing in The Streets, which placed dance in public places around the world: Grand Central Station, The Brooklyn Bridge, Place de Concord/Paris, the Tiber River/Rome. She is finishing her first novel.
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