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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday October 25, 2022

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Georgia Evans

Georgia Evans

Senior Editorial Officer , Europeana Foundation

Discover the beauty of data poetry with Mr Gee

At Europeana 2022, we were delighted to be joined by data poet Mr Gee, whose poems on each day of the conference gave rich new perspectives on the topics in focus. Watch the poems being performed and discover the beauty of data poetry!

Europeana 2022 explored all things digital cultural heritage, and there was a lot to discuss and make sense of as Europeana begins to steward the new common European data space for cultural heritage. 

With the conference emphasising the importance of storytelling as a way of engaging audiences - a topic specifically in focus on Day 2 - we were delighted to be joined by data poet and spoken word artist, Mr Gee. Best known as the ‘Poet Laureate’ on Russell Brand's SONY award-winning Radio show, his work has been featured in the Times, The Guardian and the New Statesman, and he has presented several radio series. He was the summit Poet-in-Residence for the UK’s Open Data Institute where he coined the phrase ‘Data Poetry’. In 2019 the Open Data Institute commissioned Mr Gee’s first ever data artwork, ‘Bring Me My Fire Truck’. You can follow Mr Gee on Instagram and Twitter, @mrgeepoet.  

Mr Gee's perspective that, ‘There is this beautiful poetry, there is this beautiful storytelling, there is this beautiful artistic expression within the data industry’ led to some truly unique retellings of the three days of Europeana 2022 in poetry. Mr Gee’s reflections were, for many attendees, one of the highlights of the conference:

You can watch recordings of all Mr Gee's poems through the video embedded above and on our Youtube playlist. The text of the four poems composed at Europeana 2022 are available at the end of this post.  

The final closing poem of Europeana 2022 - a call for collaboration as we move into the new European data space for cultural heritage - captured the spirit of our conference: 

So as we embark upon this Data Space,

let the changing climate navigate our endeavour,

Because by exposing our art,

We expose our heart,

Such is the impact of the task,

To bring us all together.

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All together now

Art has a way of bringing people together
Through Time,
Through Space,
Through Theme,
Through Domain,
Celebrating continuity
through its change,
Such is the impact of its task.

It calibrates the inner coding of our forgotten hearts,
Documenting the dreams of our unknown sighs,
As every generation proposes its own gallery of free expression,
Precariously placed on a planet
which constantly questions 
mans' slicing
of cake.

Who gets the cream?
Will there always be an ancient red-faced cherry
on top?
Where does sovereignty start?
Where does sovereignty stop?

Who considers the past laments?
And decides how their echoes reverberate
Within our future,
because from this
new heroes will be born.

Thus culture needs to be democratised,
where the curation of Art is an artform within itself,
And Art will always bring people together,
So we collaborate,
We aggregate,
We argue,
We advocate,

Knowing that the spark of a solution
Can be ignited by debate.

For we are all 'built with bits'
The sum of ever-diversifying voices,
Where the fluency of an ignored tongue
Creates a song
That spiritually we can all dance to,
Compose a symphony that keeps the past true,
As we digitally build a picture
Where all are enhanced too,

I know that it's difficult to find new value,
When 'Heritage' is such an institutionalised word,
Whose vowels and consonants have been so copied
and written, that interrogation rarely gets heard,

so as we embark upon this Data Space,
let the changing climate navigate our endeavour,
Because by exposing our art,
We expose our heart,
Such is the impact of the task,
To bring us all together.

All together now, Mr Gee, 2022, CC BY 4.0.

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Build it and they will come

Build me a landscape where I can roam,
And lose myself within a poem,
A guided metaphor for a better tour,
To see different expressions of our home,

But as we seek to lay foundations
And grow appreciation,
We're greeted by "copyright duration"
Because we all want this frame to work for us,

So construct a platform that elevates,
Whose architecture is shared,
Where each Lego block that interlocks,
Maintains its structure when compared,

Thus the Data must be robust,
As fair-use is based on trust,
The reputation of the Original,
Is hard-earned but easily lost,
Because we ALL want this frame to work, for us,

So pave me a path that shows the way,
That shows the source,
That shows the sponsor,
That relays conflicting Tales of the Flood,
Soaking in our collective climate unconscious

For we all must travel from within,
Meet at the crossroads to begin,
As we journey from the physical to the digital,
We frame our works by principles of building.

Build it and they will come, Mr Gee, 2022, CC BY 4.0.

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The stories that tell

It's oft been said that Back in Time,
One of the reasons that mankind survived,
Was our acute ability
To Gossip,

Fuelled by instincts of Flight or Fight,
Locating soils for harvest ripe,
Or to celebrate carnal desire
Nothing could stop it,

Advice from young to old,
Language forms new protocols,
To predict a calm before the storm,
Regardless of topic,

So Data formed in ancient minds,
Live-streamed in real-time,
Some unstructured,
Some destroyed by design,
We lost a lot of it,

Yet relevence provides civilisations cradle,

Some Gossip evolves into stories,
Some stories are upgraded to fables,
Through such organic intelligence,
Culture is enabled
Then, imaginary lines get drawn within the sand,

Where habits become rituals,
Rituals become laws,
Codes of practice interact with us,
For national applause,

Hierachies are born,
As to which stories are adored,
Acquired treasure holds the measure,
To sanction these platforms,

So museums became our servers,
our custodians of ideas,
Cataloguing & backing up expressions,
Curating the Culture that appeared,

But this planet is in constant motion
And we are beings of constant e-motion
Who will artistically upload brand new Histories,
Our future heritage built on such devotion.

So all praise is due to digital gossip,
That will forever redefine,
It's our shared communication
And how we shall survive.

The stories that tell, Mr Gee, 2022, CC BY 4.0.

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Hard questions

It's hard for me to question the future of art,
I can appreciate that
the same work that brings some people together
can tear others apart,

I can question its spirit, its tone,
The conflicting feelings that it imparts,
Whose heritage gets celebrated
And whose gets left in the dark?
But can anyone really question an artist's creative spark?
One that pleads to be evaluated and felt.

And how can I really question the technology behind a book?
Sure, I can question the aesthetics,
the design
how the illustrations look,
I can question the fonts, the spacing,
The ecological cost of each page,
its subject consideration,
its size and its weight,

But as a physical artifact,
Books keep ideas in one space,
Unless they get lost from their shelves,

So can I really question Metadata's glory?
I can question entity-linking allegory
Whether its annotated for me,
What's the intent of each sentance?
Does it have a colonial back-story?

I can scrutinize the transcription of each word,
The intellectual property of each letter,
Do only tourists validate this?
Could user-experience be better?

But as a means of archiving;
It impacts the connector,
Where Art, book and shelf become one,

So now,
I appreciate the skill of curation,
If art is moving through time,
It requires presentation,

With machines ever-learning,
recalibrating what they read,
People with concern
Are re-evaluating what they believe,

So in an aim to be inclusive,
Everyone deserves a look,
No meta-data, no future,
Closed art, closed book.

Hard questions, Mr Gee, 2022, CC BY 4.0.