Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

Poem Flow, the online home of the Academy of American Poets, has just released an iPhone app called Poem Flow. (No idea on just how well that link will work, for the record–you can access the description through the home page as well.) I downloaded it because, well, I’m a sucker for apps, and it’s free. I’ve been fiddling with it a little, and here’s what I find interesting about it.

It changes the way you perceive the poem a bit. Here’s what I mean. The first poem that loaded up for me was Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” Here’s a screen grab of what it looks like in standard view.

Scroll down the screen and you get the whole poem–the lines are broken to fit the screen, but the indentions make clear where Yeats broke his lines. Here’s the traditional way of viewing the poem for comparison’s sake.

But when you go landscape, well, that’s a whole different story, because now you get the flow effect–there’s a play button at the bottom of the screen, and the words appear and disappear as you work your way through the poem. Notice I didn’t say lines–that’s because lines aren’t the units now. Here’s a screen grab from the landscape view:

This view seems to have done away with much, if not all of Yeats’s capital letters, but the big change, for me, is that they’ve completely changed the way one approaches the poem now. You can’t get the sense of movement from the screen grabs, but the rate at which the words appear and disappear limits the speed at which you can read the poem (in a good way, I think) and it emphasizes moments of tension in the poem. It creates dozens more line breaks than Yeats included or arguably intended. In a way, you’re no longer reading Yeats’s poem–you’re reading the programmer/designer’s edition of Yeats’s poem.

This also means that the programmer/designer can have some fun with the poem. I was grabbed by this moment the first time I saw it.

Combined with the previous line “a waste of desert sand;” these lines make me think of the Sphinx, and by extension, the Valley of the Kings, and while it may be coincidence that these three lines form a pyramid of sorts, it certainly reinforced the image for me.

The poems all appear to be older, public-domain poems–you get twenty for downloading the app, and then you have the option of buying another hundred for a dollar, or a year’s worth for $2.99, using the new inApp option iTunes has set up. I spent the three bucks and I’ll see how I like it. I hope that the AAP is using the public domain stuff as a teaser and that we’ll see newer poems in the subscription model. It would also be nice if the AAP would allow poets to collaborate with designers in the translation of their works into this new format.


February 17, 2010 - Posted by | Poem Flow


  1. Very cool! I'm going to have to get this one! 🙂

    Comment by Amy | February 17, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the shout out Brian. I love your take on Poem Flow! You really seem to get what we're trying to do.I hadn't personally noticed the pyramid in the Yeats poem, but its exactly the kind of effect we're looking to support as we pry the words off of a static printed page and onto an active screen.You are correct that we remove most capitalization and punctuation in the Flow creation process. Our thesis is that the visual cues provided by punctuation are conveyed more naturally by the layout, timing and motions of the words on the screen.We are currently providing our own interpretation of public-domain poems but are working hard to improve our Flow-creation tools to allow poets and authors to natively 'compose' a Flow. We think that freeing text from its history as a static medium will open up new channels for expression and communication between author and reader. Look for more to come soon!Cheers,Tony Confrey(Co-founder TextTelevision)

    Comment by Tony | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  3. Interesting, thanks. The example I saw actually felt a little frustrating with how it spaced the lines, but that may be because I know that particular poem very well. But this is thinking in a good direction, I believe.

    Comment by Beloved Snail | February 21, 2010 | Reply

  4. Thanks for recommending this, by the way. I've really been enjoying it!Word verification: CHEER!

    Comment by Andrew Shields | February 26, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] Currently, on my iPhone, I have the following poetry-related apps: Vogon Poetry, Poem Flow (reviewed here), iPhrase (like magnetic poetry), WGBH Poetry (videos mostly), multiple e-reader programs, and now, […]

    Pingback by A New Poetry App for the iPhone « Brian Spears | May 20, 2010 | Reply

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