This is a prototype for a generative poem that would, in its completed form, use the GPS location of a mobile device to add stanzas to a text based on the order in which certain locations were visited, effectively ‘writing’ a poem as the reader travels around a place; in this case, Newcastle upon Tyne. The current prototype version uses a map of the city to generate the poem, with the reader selecting which locations are ‘visited’ and in what order. The finished mobile version would not include the map, instead taking the reader’s actual location as the prompt to add another stanza to the poem. The title (read as ‘Newcastle nine factorial’) refers to the number of possible versions of the poem, which is a little over 360,000 with the nine locations used. Selecting the ‘Print’ button on the interface allows the reader to print or save the current poem as a PDF file, adding the poem’s unique version number as a subtitle. An example poem can be seen here.
This piece expands upon a mobile app, Steps in Time, that I created prior to this PhD project in collaboration with Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, John Challis and 14 other poets who were commissioned to write about various locations in Newcastle. This app used a map interface as a way for readers to select a poem to read, with the map acting as a ‘contents page’ to the digital anthology of poems. For Newcastle nine!, I wrote individual stanzas about nine locations in the city, along with connecting lines that appear at the beginning of each stanza when it is added to the poem. By doing this, I aim to combine digital publishing – the presentation of text by electronic means – more closely with existing poetic practices that incorporate computation. A key inspiration for this approach was the work of the OuLiPo, a collective of French writers and mathematicians founded in 1960, and in particular Raymond Queneau, whose book of sonnets Cent mille milliards de poèmes (A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems) uses combinations of lines from ten initial sonnets to generate 1014 possible poems and has been a major influence on the field of digital poetry.