Poetry in motion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2003, 12:00am

Writing poetry is painting pictures with words. We can all do it. Instead of dipping a brush into coloured paint and painting a picture of what we see or feel, we can take words and put them together, shape them and mix them to express ourselves. Each of us has a massive box of words to dig into. The possibilities are endless.

So what else do we need to write poetry apart from our box of words and our imagination? Centrifugalforces, a ground-breaking UK media organisation, has recently come up with an accessible and fun idea to get the Brits public writing poetry.

Every day, more than 50 million mobile phone text messages are sent in Britain. Text messages are used to tell jokes, to organise things, to gossip, to flirt and to inform. In a short time they have become an essential communication tool.

Text messages are instantaneous and short lived, they appear and then they vanish. But thanks to a new arts initiative from Centrifugalforces, a city in the north of England is looking at text messaging in a completely new light.

Last February, Leeds saw the launch of CityPoems, a public poetry project that gives her people a chance to create a living portrait of their city through text message poetry. It all began with a series of creative workshops led by writers and the people of Leeds were invited to write short poems of a maximum length of 160 characters about any aspect of the city that appealed to them.

Deaf pupils at a city high school were also involved in the initial stages of the project and staff at a local call centre were invited to spend some of their work time creating text message poems about Leeds.

A bank of text poems was gathered together and a network of 30 PoemPoints popped up all around Leeds in locations from bars and bus stops to art galleries and sports grounds. Each PoemPoint has a unique key number. When this number is sent as a text message to CityPoems' central phone number, a free poem relating to the location of the PoemPoint is sent back to the user's cell phone.

The poem that comes back to your cell phone is relevant to where you are or what you are doing. You might get a poem called Flight if you text the PoemPoint at Leeds airport. You will get a transport poem if you are standing at a bus stop.

Since the project began, there have been over two thousand requests for poems and anyone in Leeds can now send in a poem to CityPoems' number. To get your poem on CityPoems' database all you need is a cell phone, a bit of imagination and something to say.

Technology has a habit of shaping art, and text message poetry could well become an important new 21st-century art form. It is going strong in Leeds and who knows which city, or even which country, will latch on to it next? There could be a PoemPoint near you soon. Get ready to create.

Visit www.citypoems.co.uk to read some of Leeds' CityPoems.

Are these sentences about CITYPOEMS true or false?

1. CityPoems is a new UK poetry writing initiative.

2. It was started initially for students in Great Britain.

3. Text messaging is not popular in the UK.

4. CityPoems was launched a year ago in London.

5. The original bank of poems was created at writing workshops.

6. CityPoems aims to be a living poetry portrait of the city of Leeds.

7. There are 30 locations around the city where mobile phone users can access poems.

8. Anyone in Leeds can send a poem to CityPoems.

9. Two hundred requests for poems are received each week.

10. Each cell phone user in Leeds is limited to receiving three poems a day.