Text app-eal for verse lovers

Ever wondered if the coffee shop you are having your lunch at has had a poem written about it?

With the free smartphone app, Text In the City, you can find out. The app stores 100 poems by 50 Singapore poets. They cover different places in Singapore, from Bras Basah Road to Bukit Batok Central to Pulau Ubin. Non-English poems are also included, with accompanying English translations.

It is part of a campaign by The Arts House to "take local poetry out of classrooms and bookstores and place it directly in the hands of Singaporeans", says its director, Mr William Phuan.

It is done in collaboration with the National Arts Council and The Literary Centre, a not-for-profit organisation for inter-cultural communication and engagement across communities through literature.

Poems are arranged according to zones in Singapore: north, east, west, north-east, central and offshore islands, and the app uses location data to show whether places around users have inspired the works of local poets.

For example, if a user is in Clementi, the app might indicate the poem Coffee shop, Clementi, written by poet Leong Liew Geok.

Audio recordings of the poems, many read by the poets themselves, are also available in the app, along with historical information about the places. There are also three poetry trails for users, in the civic district, Bras Basah and Chinatown areas.

Those with a literary bent can join a poetry competition inspired by places in Singapore, with cash of up to $1,500 andprizes to be won. More than 300 entries have been submitted to date.

Two poets featured in the app are Mohamed Latiff Mohamed and Jennifer Anne Champion.

Malay poet and novelist Mohamed Latiff's poem Geylang Serai captures its early years in the 1950s as a slum area. He lived there for more than two decades.

Though the 64-year-old Cultural Medallion recipient does not own a smartphone, he says: "Using technology really makes it very accessible for everyone to be exposed to poetry. I could never have dreamt of something like this."

Champion, 26, agrees, saying it is "a good way of contextualising local poetry for tech-savvy audiences".

Her poem Serangoon Gardeners is about the changes she has seen in the neighbourhood she grew up in.

"Poetry is also a creatively satisfying way of exploring our history and also keeping it relevant," she adds.

Indeed, the poems allow the writers to share a piece of their own personal histories with the reader.

Freelance interpreter and translator Shaffiq Selamat, 45, has submitted five poems for the competition, four of which are about Kaki Bukit.

He says: "Kaki Bukit holds a very special place in my heart because I was born there in my own kampung house."

Freelance writer Bhuva Narayanan, 24, raved about the app to her friends just one day after using it.

She says: "Because the poems are attached to a place, it gives these places more meaning. With the app, you can even do a cultural walkabout and explore places in Singapore."

Text In The City will be holding roadshows tomorrow and next month, during which, poets Mohamed Latiff, Champion, Loh Guan Liang, this year's Cultural Medallion recipient KTM Iqbal, and Joshua Ip will dispense writing advice to those new to poetry.

At these roadshows, visitors can also try writing their own poems based on 50 words pre-selected by poet Alvin Pang.


This article was first published on Dec 05, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.