A Poetry App Worth a Look (and a Listen)

I've been enjoying exploring The Poetry App this week -- an app with a good story, which deserves the attention of any poetry fan. The app was the brainchild of Josephine Hart, who passed away in June of last year. Hart is probably best known as the author of the novel Damage (which became a major motion picture), but is perhaps best remembered as an ambassador for poetry.

Hart believed strongly in the power of the word. In her book, Catching Life By the Throat, she wrote, "Poetry has never let me down. Without poetry, I would have found life less comprehensible, less bearable and infinitely less enjoyable." She also believed that poetry is best understood when read aloud, particularly by a skilled reader.

Acting on her beliefs, Hart founded two popular public poetry reading series -- the Gallery Poets and the Josephine Hart Poetry Hour -- that, for years, attracted a slew of the UK's best-known actors. Before she passed away, Hart also laid the groundwork for the app, which she hoped would serve as an online version of those poetry readings.

Hart's app features 115 poems by 16 poets (with plans to expand), including works by W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, John Milton, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Butler Yeats.

True to Hart's vision, readers can study all of the app's offerings quietly, or can call on the voice of a skilled reader. The app features a star-studded lineup, including Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons, former James Bond actor Roger Moore and playwright Harold Pinter.

Readers can sift through poems by poet or by actor, and can even save their favorite poems in an in-app library. The app also includes a brief introduction to each poet written by Hart herself. In her introduction to T.S. Eliot, she quoted the Nobel academy:

"Tradition is not a dead load which we drag along with us... it is the soil in which the seeds of coming harvests are to be sown, and from which future harvests will be garnered."

Hart hoped that the tradition she cultivated so carefully in the app would prove a fertile soil for growing future lovers of poetry.

You can download the app for free (for both the iPhone and the iPad) at the app store. If you'd like a taste of what it has to offer, the Irish Times has a link to The Wire star Dominic West reading Shelley's "Ozymandias" here.