Poetic Justice: Re-presenting Poetry

The Problem:

Poetry – the word itself can incite frustration, joy, nostalgia, derision, and most often, shrugs. For something that can cause such varied and strong emotions, poetry gets little notice from a vast majority of people. A huge cause of low readership is the general lack of exposure to poetry had by all but the most heavily engaged readers and poets themselves. The amount and quality of exposure readers have to poetry greatly impacts the perception they have of it, as well as their willingness to further engage with it in the future, especially considering the abundance of other entertainment options readily available. 


In order to combat these issues, I gathered insights on several common attitudes towards poetry and examined how different distribution modes for poetry could positively confront preconceptions of what poetry is, as well as the ways in which readers are meant to interact with it. To create a sustainable level of engagement, I’ve designed a system that pairs the immediacy and interest of the physical environment with the convenience and power of the web to re-present poetry to potential young adult readers, while maintaining an environment that can engage current readers. 

The Concept:

At the end of my thesis work, my final concept was a two-part system that uses physical, environmental motivators to grab attention, connected to a web platform meant to expand and sustain engagement with poetry.

Increasing Incidental Exposure & Improving the Online Experience 

The environmental portion of the system is meant to spur initial interest. Like previous and existing projects that present poetry in public, these physical motivators should be placed in public, commonly (if not heavily) traversed spaces. The main focus includes presenting poetry in interactive forms in a variety of sizes like  postcards and posters or large scale pieces like art installations, street art, or advertising spaces on public transport. 

Motivation materials, however, are in no way limited to the physical realm. Digital options to attract users would most likely leverage social media (especially Twitter and Pinterest), but would require further research to find more creative methods. Poetry might sneak into online advertising spaces or built into apps. Aside from the system generated motivations, taking advantage of the tendency in readers towards friend-to-friend poetry sharing in the final design will also help spread the word about the website. 

Once a user has reached the website, there are multiple ways to interact and engage with poetry. There are four main sections to the website: Discover, Create & Contribute, Curate, and Crusade, each meant to facilitate a different level of interaction and engagement. 

Discover: Finding a Holisitic View of Poetry 

The homepage for the website, or the “Discover” page, is meant to instantly communicate to the user the variety of content poetry curated on the site. The discover page is an infinite scroll filled with collections curated by official system curators, guest curators, highlighted user collections, and items that have been ranked highly by users. The work presented, while not limited to multimedia submissions, will emphasize visual presentations of poetry. For submissions that are only text, they will formatted either by the submitter or a system curator so that they are typo free and use good typographic hierarchy. Each item on the discover page can be clicked on to see more details, watch any videos, find more information about the source, tag, and share. Also, because the submission of found poetry found texts that are not purposefully written as poetry is encouraged to help users question their ideas about poetry, users will be able to vote specific items up or down as being particularly “poetic”.

Create & Contribute: Adding Your Own Interpretation

On the Create and Contribute page, users can submit their own work or found work for consideration, participate in challenges, or use built-in tools to create work that combines visuals and text to represent poems. The system challenges would include a range of activities, including poem writing, poem finding, visual interpretations, storytelling based on poems, creatively sharing poetry with people and countless other prompts that encourage users to think about and interact with poetry in ways they have not done before. Also, by enabling users to create and contribute content, they are given value and stake in the system and their ability to learn through creation is emphasized. 

Curate: Making Meaningful Connections

On the Curate page, users can create and organize their own collections of poetry from the system content, or their own. These collections could serve as personal resources for the user to peruse content they like again at a later date, a way to share with friends, and, if well managed, might serve as a highlighted collection by system administrators (much as Etsy highlights especially interesting and successful shops). 

Crusade: Creative Ways of Sharing Poetry 

On the Crusade page, users are able to learn about guerilla poetry tactics, download tools and templates to use, or just look for inspiration to share poetry in their own communities. Because the success of the motivational portion of the system would be greatly amplified by users taking a stake in the process of sharing, having well-designed, reliable resources readily available will greatly increase the growth and success of the system. 

The Process:

For a brief summary, you can reference the posters presented at the end of each semester to CMU faculty, students, and visitors. For a more in-depth look at my complete process, check out the PDF of my thesis document.


Feel free to make it easier on your eyes and check out the PDF versions: Fall 2012, Spring 2013

Graduate Thesis // 2012-2013 Academic Year // Carnegie Mellon University // Advisor: Dan Boyarski