Media Release

THE DIGITAL EVOLUTION OF POETRY

New global digital platform aims to revolutionise the writing, publishing and sharing of poetry

Four historic poets using modern technology to interact with, and to write Poetry

For immediate release. (UK 'National Poetry Day' is Thursday 3rd October, 2013)

'PoetryZoo' (www.poetryzoo.com) is an ambitious new digital platform which aims to revolutionise the writing, publishing and sharing of poetry on a global basis. PoetryZoo – based in the UK and backed by Digital Innovation funding from Creative Scotland (national Arts body of Scotland) and Scottish Enterprise – is the first ever site custom-built for the needs of poetry, offering a private creative Workspace for the writing and crafting of poems, as well as a dedicated ‘Poetry Window’ to showcase – and share - finished work. It is fully integrated with Twitter and other social media.

PoetryZoo utilises the latest digital technology, combined with high design values. With no need for apps, the cutting-edge site is built using ‘responsive design’, adapting instantly to any device – on tablet, desktop, laptop and smartphone. The idea is poetry anywhere, anytime – especially as it fits so well on mobile devices! Members can compose or share their poems at the station, up a mountain, in the supermarket queue, on a plane, in bed... As PoetryZoo says - ‘Life is poetry’…

The new digital technologies offer fantastic opportunities for poetry – there is the potential to completely revolutionise and re-energise the world of poetry," says PoetryZoo co-founder, Richard Saville-Smith. He points to the fact that there are now vanishingly few opportunities for poets; a mere handful of publishers which reject thousands of manuscripts each year and take on just single digits of new poets. In the UK, 2.2 million people write poetry (source, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 2012). Yet less than 100 poetry books are published each year by the main five publishers - out of 150,000 books published in the UK. A tiny elite of male editors dominates. There’s a total lack of resources. And it’s even tougher for women. In desperation, many thousands spend considerable cash entering poetry competitions in the miniscule hope of being spotted.

"It’s a broken model. No matter the personal dedication of poetry publishers and editors, it’s now almost impossible for the new generations of poets to get published in the conventional sense,” Saville-Smith says. “PoetryZoo is offered as a disruptive solution to that frustration of talent, to the moribund poetry ‘industry’ - PoetryZoo empowers the stifled writers and gives them a much-needed chance to be seen and read. PoetryZoo is like YouTube to video, Wordpress to blogging, Flickr to photos."

Saville-Smith also points to the depressing fact that even if by some miracle someone does get ‘published’, print runs are in the very low hundreds and sales mostly even less. “There’s no need any more for poetry to be the poor relative. Digital technology now offers – cheaply - dazzling opportunities for poetry by comparison. It’s so incredibly positive and transformative.”

PoetryZoo won Digital Innovation funding from Creative Scotland (national arts body of Scotland) and Scottish Enterprise - and after a struggle, achieved the required ‘matching’ private sector investment. “Nothing can kill a business meeting like mentioning the word ‘poetry’,” comments Saville-Smith wryly.

The ethos of PoetryZoo is to encourage creativity and to be inclusive, supportive and celebrate diversity: it welcomes everyone, from novices to professionals. Any age; from anywhere. Everyone has equal opportunities and everyone is respected. Each member receives a personal, private Workspace to create and craft their poems, or import existing work (including song lyrics) - and when they’re ready, can publish their finished work in their dedicated showcase ‘Poetry Window’, with optional introduction, dedication, profile, sound and video. Poems can instantly be shared by Twitter and other social media, and by email. Members can form or import whole collections – space is limitless; contribute to or start communal Anthologies; join or start a common interest Group – and, much like Twitter’s ‘Followers and Following’, build a readership through ‘Readers and Reading’. They can also leave ‘loves’ and comments on each other’s work. A magazine - ‘Muse’ - provides poetry-related features, news and inspiration. (See ‘How it Works’ on PoetryZoo http://poetryzoo.com/pages/how-it-works and Muse http://muse.poetryzoo.com/)

“PoetryZoo is a positive, creative place – people who write poetry – and songs - can leave their frustrations behind and feel supported – it’s a chance to really get their work out there – to connect. At PoetryZoo, we believe a poet can be anyone,” explains co-founder Gillian K Ferguson, herself a published, award-winning poet (Bloodaxe, Canongate). “At PoetryZoo, we think poetry is a natural part of life, a natural human response. It has survived through the ages for a reason. And now poetry is evolving – the internet and new devices offer incredible possibilities, a power and reach undreamt of by previous generations – I think they must be envious in Heaven!” (See below, PoetryZoo’s imagining of how some famous poets of previous generations – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman - might have appreciated and used the new tech... and why!)

The cutting-edge PoetryZoo site has been built by ‘Primate’ (http://primate.co.uk), an innovative Edinburgh-based web agency which is interested in pushing forward the boundaries of online products. "It was a great challenge to build PoetryZoo utilising responsive design and facilitating it to work seamlessly across any type of device without separate apps - but when we realised how the format of a poem is so naturally suited to mobile and tablet devices, we knew it was the only choice," explains company co-founder Gordon McLachlan. "We're delighted to situate PoetryZoo at the cusp of contemporary digital technologies - especially for a site which addresses an ancient artform. It’s been a dynamic marriage!"

PoetryZoo’s beta test has proved a great hit, and the founders are delighted it has already fulfilled its global ambitions, attracting members from Alaska to Australia - right across the United States from Chicago to New Mexico; Scotland to Lesotho to India; Ireland to Nigeria, England to Pakistan to New Zealand and many more. Diversity is key to PoetryZoo and members already represent all stages of poetry writing – those who have published collections at high profile publishers (they can import out-of-print books/write, promote or try out new work) and magazines – as well as complete beginners and those everywhere in between. Even in the beta, fascinating narratives emerge of why people write poetry – such as a senior BBC journalist who developed PTSD after years of covering the brutal conflict in Iraq and began writing poetry as part of his recovery (see features http://muse.poetryzoo.com/). Some members are writing poems to help stay off drugs or alcohol; and there’s everyone from a reptile-keeper to an Indian professor; those living in splendid wilderness to tough inner city estates. There’s even been a proposal…

“We have created PoetryZoo for the love of poetry,” says Ferguson as the site is launched – beginning in the UK, then the US, and onwards on a rolling global programme. “We want it to become a favourite and indispensable part of people’s lives, of their poems. It offers endless creative space - a limitless window for work and a new way to be read around the world. It was founded as an empowering - and powerful - home for everyone on the planet who writes and loves poetry.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

PoetryZoo is at www.poetryzoo.com. ‘About’ explains the ethos of the site: http://poetryzoo.com/pages/about. To explore all PoetryZoo’s functions, it’s best to join to gain full access – membership is free!

INTERVIEWS and FURTHER INFORMATION

PoetryZoo’s co-founders and Primate, the web development team, are available for interview. Please phone 07909 527 629 or 0131 346 8007 for Richard or Gillian (NB These numbers operate out of hours); or Richard@poetryzoo.com; or Gillian@poetryzoo.com and on Twitter @PoetryZoo

PoetryZoo’s co-founders are award-winning poet and journalist, Gillian K Ferguson (Bloodaxe, Canongate) and Richard Saville-Smith, a media specialist for charities, former Chartered Accountant, and current PhD student at the University of Edinburgh in the study of Religion. http://poetryzoo.com/pages/team; and also for Gillian, further bio information and her major award-winning online project on the mapping of the human genome: www.thehumangenome.co.uk.

PICTURES – plus wee stories of why famous poets of previous generations might have valued and used the new tech!

There are four high quality images available – jpeg and TIFF – low and high resolution, of past generations of famous writers using new tech – mobile, tablet, laptop… Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman, as below, at dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/5myrd3vme16ge8a/WWY01oWmgA

Samuel Taylor Coleridge using an electronic reading device

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834

Protecting identity for experimentation – In 1798 Coleridge and William Wordsworth combined forces in the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ which was published anonymously to test the experimental nature of the work. In PoetryZoo you can publish anonymously using a ‘zoodonym’ – (then still ‘adopt’ your own work later). Experimentation is welcome. And, from the reverse perspective, putting your poetry online in an organised, dated way is the best way of protecting against plagiarism - scandals are currently rocking Australia and the UK.

Robert Burns using an iPad

Robert Burns 1759-1796

Making poetry and song - Robert Burns had a keen sense of the interrelation of poetry and songs. As well as poetry, PoetryZoo is for song lyrics – including sound and video files. Burns, a global poet who wrote some of the best known and enduring songs ever, died with 200 songs unpublished - if only he’d had PoetryZoo!

Emily Dickinson writing poetry on a laptop

Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

Confounding convention and connecting – Emily Dickinson wrote nearly 1800 poems but only eleven were ever published in her lifetime. Her work was unconventional and the poems were significantly altered to ‘fit’ convention, as was her first posthumous collection. It took until 1955 for what she actually wrote to be published. PoetryZoo empowers the writer. It dissolves barriers to getting work out there, allows talent not just to breathe but to fly. But work can also be kept private. Eventually reluctant to leave her room, most of Dickinson’s friendships were through correspondence. PoetryZoo Members can connect with each other from anywhere, all over the planet.

Walt Whitman holding an iPhone

Walt Whitman 1819-1892

The continual edit – when is a poem finished? Walt Whitman spent 35-40 years restlessly revising ‘Leaves of Grass’ before declaring the deathbed edition of 1892 to be complete. How much easier would this process be in the digital age? PoetryZoo allows poems to be written, edited and updated (with a chain of multiple drafts) on any device, anywhere. And if like Walt you change your mind, you can even ‘unpublish’ a poem!

Further information

For further information or to arrange interviews/pics, please contact Richard Saville-Smith or Gillian Ferguson – 07909 527 629; 0131 346 8007; Richard@poetryzoo.com; Gillian@poetryzoo.com

Ends.