The Red Room app uses a digital map to (literally) explore poetry and place. Photo / Supplied
A new smartphone app is giving Australian poets the chance to immortalise their favourite haunts in words.
Created by not-for-profit poetry organisation The Red Room Company
, The Disappearing app
is a new, free-to-download app for iPhone, iPad and Android users that allows poets and the public alike to read and upload poems on historic and personally important spaces across Australia. Users of the app are able to navigate through the poems via a virtual map, which they can also use to upload their own poems.
The Red Room Company artistic director Johanna Featherstone says the idea for The Disappearing app, which was developed with the help of Portable Studios, was unexpectedly unique.
"Despite there being 650,000 apps out there, there's actually surprisingly few poetry apps," she says. "As Shelley said, poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, and they're keen to be on the front foot with new ways of doing things."
As part of the project, The Red Room Company teamed up with Historic Houses Trust
to commission five Australian poets – Nick Bryant-Smith, Jill Jones, Lorna Munro, Astrid Lorange and Martin Harrison – to write on some of the protected buildings and museums in the Trust’s portfolio.
In total, over 100 poems have been uploaded to the Sydney part of the map, which The Red Room Company – currently the primary commissioning body for new works of poetry in the country – hopes to see extend throughout Australia.
Nick Bryant-Smith, one half of Sydney hip-hop duo Horrorshow, says the project is a way for poets to explore the idea of disappearing stories within the Australian landscape.
"I think poets and writers are really interested in stories – and all stories have to have a setting or a backdrop against which they take place.
"So as a writer to actually physically put yourself in a particular space allows you to more vividly imagine the stories or images that might happen in that environment."
Bryant-Smith, who wrote on the Rouse Hill House and Farm on the outskirts of Sydney (one of the oldest continually-occupied homes in Australia), says the commission was exciting not only in terms of contributing poetry for the app, but in the way it allowed him to explore some of the issues surrounding Australia’s fading backstories.
"[I]t's the first time anyone's officially asked me to write some poetry (as opposed to the raps I'm normally accustomed to writing) so I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
"I noticed a lot of similarities to ideas that I already had floating around in my head to write something about – things to do with changing spaces and environments and also that idea of stories that are vanishing around us all the time."
Featherstone says part of the reason for creating the app was to challenge conventional notions of history, particularly when the dominant history of a place can cause other, lesser-known stories to disappear.
"'History’ is generally created in a linear fashion by those in a position of privilege," says Featherstone. "Through The Disappearing, hundreds of poets are themselves deciding on what to remember, which is important in itself."
Featherstone says the app is also an opportunity to record new and oft-neglected histories within the greater narrative of Australia’s colonial past.
"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."
Established Australian poet Jill Jones, who was commissioned to write on Sydney’s colonial Elizabeth Bay House for The Disappearing, says she was impressed by the project’s "blend of new technology with ideas of memory, history and trace, and old, much-changed and debatable spaces".
"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," she says on her poem for the app, "A View of Elizabeth Bay House".
Bryant-Smith says the app is a way for the public and poets alike to connect with a more accessible, relevant poetry within the context of everyday life.
"I think it's great that Red Room has gone and developed this platform as a way to perhaps remove poetry from its traditional context – which is maybe often perceived amongst the general public as being dusty books and weird or antiquated people – and delivering it to your pocket and connecting it back with the world around you."The Disappearing app can be downloaded free of charge for iPhones, iPads and Androids from The Red Room Company at redroomcompany.org.