Poem Flow

A couple months ago I was checking my e-mail messages on my phone when I saw one from The Academy of American Poets (poets.org), about a new iPhone app called Poem Flow. The idea seemed really neat. After purchasing the app for a buck, a poem a day is sent to me, and everyne around the world who bought the app is reading the same poem at the same time. Turn the iPhone to profile, and you can read the poem, turn it to landscape, and it presents itself in a slideshow format.

Pretty cool.

However, it wasn’t long after I installed it that I was quickly disappointed. The great vision was not executed in a very user- friendly manner.

The portrait view, the one where you can just read the poem, is too narrow. Thus almost every line of any poem takes up at least two lines in this format. Sure, the tabbed convention is used, but it is still cumbersome, not visually appealing, and makes for a lot more scrolling.

The landscape view has the opposite problem. Each line break in the landscape view is a cadence break, so if there is one cadence in a line of poetry, then it is two lines in the slideshow. Initially, this makes sense, but the slideshow becomes very jarring, and timing becomes crutial. In my experience, the timing of a line is off more often than not.

It seems to me, if nothing else, the slideshow would be better in portrait and the poem itself better in landscape.

I think people must have complained, because an update soon came out that allowed the user to control the speed of the slideshow. The problem with this is although it is nice to control the speed, it doesn’t solve the problem of timing while reading the poem. In other words, it controls the speed of the poem as a whole, but not within the reading itself. The other problem is the speed is controlled by tilting the iPhone, and too much time is spend doing this that you can’t actually pay attention to the poem. They should just have a slow medium and fast setting.

What’s cool about Poem Flow is that you accumulate a nice little library of poems. The dollar you spend is not for the app per se, but for a collection of twenty poems. So if you want more than twenty poems, you pay another buck. The problem here is not that I am cheap, but that you can’t delete poems. In the twenty poems I first received, there were two or three I already have, one I read for the first time and loved, and the rest didn’t speak to me. So really, I got one poem. I would have liked to delete the other nineteen, so that I keep getting more, keep deleting the ones I don’t want, and then by the end of it, twenty poems for a buck would have been an excellent deal. Alas…

So here I am, disappointed in the app, yes, but even more so disappointed in poets.org, a reputable advocate for poetry, and yet, seems to have completely missed the mark on the poetic experience for the reader. If they fix these shortcomings I will be happy, but missing the reader mark will be something they can’t fix. It should have been caught in the initial design stage of the application, but never was.

0 thoughts on “Poem Flow”

  1. I took a look at this app when it first came out, and your review inspired me to take a look at it again. It has improved but it’s still not something I can get excited about using. The line breaks in the portrait view are just awful. Using the image in your post as a small sample, 2 of the 5 lines are broken not just once, but twice!

    The flow view has changed considerable since I first saw it. They are getting more advanced with the animation, but I wouldn’t say that it adds to the experience, understanding or enjoyment of the poem. And if it doesn’t, what’s the point?

    Today’s poem is broken into single words or very short phrases, stacked up in a center-justified column, with the occasional word zooming in from the left. It is so distracting it makes the original nearly incomprehensible.

    I can imagine an animated time-based presentation working for some poems, especially if the poet or a very sensitive editor is involved in designing the sequence and the timing. I can also imagine many reasons not to create a pre-determined unfolding. To quote Emily Dickinson: “The truth must dazzle gradually…” Sometimes irregularly and idiosyncratically, too.

    I’m even more confused by the Home view, which has a date that seems to be the birthday for some of the poets, but has Tuesday next to Carl Sandburg. Was he born Tuesday?

    The idea of everyone reading the same poem at the same time is a compelling one, but its potential isn’t realized as there’s no way to connect with or interact with other readers. Unless I’m missing something.

    That’s a great idea about being able to save just the ones you like, to build a self-curated collection.

    Have you seen the Poetry Foundation’s app?

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