Poems often tell us more about street life than any tourist guide or history book. An unusual new app - City Poems - for the iPhone/IPod Touch/iPad just released uses satellite location to link streets, buildings, statues, buried remains, taverns and memories in central London to classic poems written about them. Whether you are in New York or Trafalgar Square you can see how far you are from a poem and click to read it on the screen of the phone. Fresh poems will be added regularly as they are uncovered.
Vic Keegan spent months digging out poems from books and online sources and was amazed at the things he learned about a city he thought he knew very well: vivid descriptions of public hangings at Newgate, public burnings in Smithfield ("his guts filled a barrel"), the real reason men stay at the posh Athenaeum Club, the stories behind the sculptures in Trafalgar Square and a verbatim report of a rowdy street football match in Covent Garden by John Gay, author of the Beggar's Opera in which the players are called "crews" not teams. He came across one seventeenth century poem entirely about a pub crawl across London in search of a decent glass of claret. At a tavern in Holborn they were interrupted by a man in manacles escorted by guards who was being allowed a final drink before resuming his journey to be hanged at Tyburn. This is believed to be the origin of the phrase "one for the road".
Vic chronicles the development of his new app in his column in The Guardian – an excerpt follows:
“The truly amazing fact is that we have already entered an era in which it is possible for anyone to dream up a service for their mobile phone at low cost, which can be sold to a potential market of billions of people as practically everyone has, or will have a mobile phone. Ours is a tiny example of this. I have no idea how many copies, if any, of our app will be sold but it has convinced me that there are awesome possibilities out there for people prepared to take a risk.”
And he also shares personal milestones:
“For me it ends an interesting period. This month I finally left the Guardian after nearly 47 years. At the end of last week I had my 70th birthday and today my first iPhone app came out. Life is full of surprises.”
I wonder if City Poems will also reveal where Vic will be penning past and future poet masterpieces…