More Truly, More Strange

An Anthology of Poetry In Augmented Reality, edited by Ger Killeen


Augmented Reality (AR) is such a relatively new technology that many people, though they might have experienced common examples like Snapchat lenses, face-filters, and enhanced museum exhibits, still want a definition of what it's all about. Put straightforwardly, AR is a digital overlay on the physical world which can be engaged with by smartphone, tablet, or specialized eyewear. That overlay can be graphical, textual, and auditory in all sorts of combinations, with the goal, ideally, of interacting meaningfully with this new, augmented space where intersections of the digital and the physical invite a reorientation towards both.

In many ways, this small anthology of poems takes up a challenge implicit in some of the observations made by Helen Papagiannis in her book 'Augmented Human: How Technology Is Shaping The New Reality'. She writes:

"As we design the future of AR, we will need to consider if digitally filtering, mediating, and substituting content to one's choosing will enhance our reality or separate us from the world and one another...
Although we are often inclined to erase things from reality that we do not want to see, such as homelessness, poverty, and sickness, there are things that we, as society, must actively address." (p.20)

She goes on to pose these crucial questions:
"...who will be authoring this new reality? Will it be individuals, corporations, or groups of people? Whose Mediated Reality will we be privy to and what visual filters or tools for interpretation will come to exist?...[W]ill we be part of a read-write environment, or read-only?" (p.21)

In this early stage of the rapid evolution of AR, I would like to stake out a space for poetry in this protean digital environment where, currently, there is very little. I would like to encourage poets to make the individuality, passion, and sheer quirkiness of their voices and visions part of both the overt augmentation-forms and often covert interpretive-forms that are shaping AR. All of the virtues we may ascribe to poetry in the analog world of books and magazines and live performances are capable of being incarnated, and even amplified in AR: language that might interrogate its own built-in presuppositions of what can be said; text which might call attention to itself as a physical object; image and sound playing seriously with, and even undercutting, a text's overt meaning; text illuminating the context of its happening and context troubling a text's assertions. And with enough experience of poems in AR, who can say what new and radically liberating kinds of poetic forms might arise from a space inundated by commercial memes, fashion-haunted bodies, and depoliticized architectural gestures? The medium from a poetic point of view is in its infancy and its potential truly excites me.

So, this anthology takes poems from 24 poets and allows them to be inserted as 3-D texts, often with camera effects, in whatever physical space towards which the viewer turns her mobile device. As editor, I saw it as part of my job to unsettle both those physical spaces and the process of reading itself, sometimes placing the poem-objects at odd angles which may frustrate easy legibility; sometimes, through light-effects, unmooring the experience of a poem from the literal time and place of its happening; sometimes, through visual means, encouraging a broadening or narrowing of context, regardless of where the camera is turned.

From almost one hundred submissions I chose poems with an eye to a very wide variety of sensibilities and outlooks; some of the poets are well-known, some are early in their careers, and some submitted poems simply because they were fascinated by what they might look like in AR.

Technically, I decided to use Snap's Lens Studio as a development environment for the AR creations. Lens Studio has been a remarkable advance in the democratization of AR creation, and, of course Snapchat with 203 million daily active users worldwide gives potential access to a huge audience. As a Snapchat Official Lens Creator, I've benefited greatly from Snap Inc's technical support and from an extremely welcoming creator community.

I suspect that some people will come to this anthology uncertain as to how to access the poems, but let me assure you it is quite straightforward. Here's how to do it:

    If you don't already have Snapchat on your phone or tablet, download it here.
    Log in to your account or create a new one if you need to.
    Point your device's camera at the Snapcode for any particular poem and press the snapcode on the screen until the lens opens. Watch this video if you want to see how that works.
    Experience the poem: Move your device around or walk around with it to find the 3-D poems.

Ger Killeen

To the Poems