Rhyme meets reason in poetry app


Poetry is to be released from the fusty world of books and brought to life in text, sound and video for smartphones and tablets in a bid to encourage a new generation of readers to learn to love "the highest form of language".

The globally available Poetry App is the inspiration of the Mullingar, Co Westmeath-born author, publisher and patron Josephine Hart, who laid plans for her creation before her untimely death from cancer in June last year.

Decades of contacts throughout the arts world meant that there was no shortage of actors willing to read for the Hart creation, including Bob Geldof, Roger Moore, The Wire star Dominic West and Julia Stevenson.

In a video message prepared before she died, Ms Hart, who wrote the hugely successful novel Damage that was later turned into a successful movie, told guests that poetry is "the highest form of language".

A total of 115 poems have been included on the app - which is available free on iTunes for iPhones, iPads and Androids - read by actors such as Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Dominic West and Felicity Kendal and Dominic West, among scores of others.

Sixteen poets were chosen: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, John Milton, Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Philip Larkin, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath and W.B Yeats. More poets and actors' voices will be added, and one commitment has already been made: that it will remain free to app lovers.

The app, created by a Saatchi company, MC Saatchi, has been funded by the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, which was established "to further access to poetry and provide funding and grants to education".

Throughout her life, Hart had a passion for public reading of poetry, believing that it brought beauty to daily life and offered listeners an understanding of the words that could never be offered by reading alone.

In her school days, Hart, who died in June 2011, was encouraged to recite by the nuns in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, to poetry at Feis Cheoil before later nurturing artistic talent at every turn during a successful publishing career in London from the 1960s.

In the app, each actor has developed their own play with language. Juliet Stevenson, for example, has tackled Emily Dickinson’s I Heard a Fly Buzz - When I Died - a poem remembered by many from school days, though few, if any, are likely to have heard it read so well.

Poetry lovers can read the text, or watch, or listen to it being read by the actors involved: “Because she wanted people of all ages to be able to use this, it was very important that the text size could be increased,” said one of the app’s designers, Kat Polley.

“Lord Saatchi took the lead on this, so we were able to be as creative as wanted,” said Ms Polley, as she offered a quick guide through the easy-to-navigate iPad: “We hope that she would have been very happy with it.”

So far, it has already proved an Internet hit, with 40,000 people downloading it: “Now, in between spells on Angry Birds, you can hear Dominic West read Shelley, or Harold Pinter engage Larkin, Roger Moore’s take on Kipling, or the lilt of Bob Geldof embracing Yeats,” said actor Dan Stevens.

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