Toronto Public Library staff and the city’s poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke, have launched an interactive map of curated poems about Toronto in honour of National Poetry Month.
Clarke, who approached the library with more than 150 poems by various authors, suggested that the TPL apply the concept of the literary neighbourhood map it launched last May.
“I went through my collection of English Canadian poetry anthologies looking for poems that dealt with Toronto neighbourhoods, and asked the League of Canadian Poets to canvas the membership,” Clarke says. “The problem with that methodology is that anthologies aren’t put together on the basis on poems about Toronto … So that took a little bit of time.”
Clarke’s four-month endeavour to gather poems about the city was followed by more than a year of web and mobile app development, headed by TPL senior specialist for information services Mary-Beth Arima, service manager Sharon Moynes, senior electronic resources specialist Sandra Gornall, and designers Alan Harnum and Rachel Tennenhouse.
“We divided up the poems, assigned them to locations, and selected excerpts so people could get a taste of what each poem was like,” Arima says. “There’s also a link under each poem to the book that it’s part of. We wanted to make sure that TPL had at least one copy so readers could come look at them.”
On the tech side, Gornall says, “It was a matter of envisioning what it would look like and how people would actually interact with it. Sometimes it was a single poem that referenced a bunch of different locations in the city and sometimes it was all of Toronto. We tried to think about how people would want to experience this. We thought a key thing was to make it mobile [friendly].”
The map also includes photographs of specific locations, which, for the TPL team, will be an ongoing project.
“We really want to have a photographic record as part of it. This map brings the city alive in terms of it being a living, pulsing, breathing organism that gives creative people – poets – inspiration. It reminds us that Toronto is a great city for the arts,” Clarke says. “People can talk about New York or London, and I like those cities too, but New York is not as multiculturally sensitive as Toronto is. Here, folks get to keep some authentic vision of a culture and celebrate it along with the Canadian identity, and to have all of those influences on their work.”
The team hopes the initiative will continue to expand to include more poems and, potentially, more places.
“Since having the soft launch, we’ve had more than a dozen poems suggested by people through the website. It’s a good positive response,” Arima says. “We urge other libraries to try the same thing, or to let us know if they’d like to know how to do it too. I believe the software behind it will be available [so] it could expand across Canada. It could even become a future arts-and-culture map with poems, books, film, music … we haven’t gone that far yet.”