Eleanor Carter understands why teenagers find poetry daunting: “They see weird, strange rhythms on the page – they don’t know what they are and how to read them.” Her answer is to get poems away from dry analysis of dog-eared anthologies and into an interactive app.
The Poetry App features a virtual living room, where you can look under a human skull, behind a stuffed wild boar or beyond the crackling fire. Hidden away in these places are scores of poetry treasures and some familiar faces: Bob Geldof reads Keats, Roger Moore recites Kipling, Elizabeth McGovern performs Marianne Moore.
Poetry’s intimacy is a good match for the smartphones that teenagers clutch at close quarters, finds Carter, who is director of The Poetry App. “They feel it’s their own little world, that it’s personal,” she says.
One of Carter's highlights is Ralph Fiennes reading TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (“It’s beautiful [and] it doesn't do any harm when kids realise it’s Voldemort!”), but the app also encourages students to write their own verse. “I’ve been surprised by how deep and personal their poetry has been – they really seem to connect with this,” says Eleanor.
And if writer’s block strikes, students can request a pop-up word to weave into their compositions – with suggestions drawn from greats such as Emily Dickinson (“ferocious”, “compelling”, “passionate”), Philip Larkin (“sophisticated”, “solitude”, “melody”) and WB Yeats (“agony”, “modern”, “patience”).
The idea for the app originally came from writer Josephine Hart, who died in 2011. Her husband, advertising magnate Maurice Saatchi, was inspired by her love of poetry to keep the project going through the Josephine Hart Foundation.
Included are some of Hart’s own inspiring essays on poetry. This was perhaps her most memorable observation: “For a girl with no sense of direction, poetry was a route map through life.”
The hope is that the app will ensure that poetry can have a similar impact on the current generation of students.
Three more resources that can help you engage your students with poetry
Ideal for an introductory lesson, this presentation covers the language used to analyse poems and the skill of annotation.
Introduce the use of metaphor in poetry, and the significance of a writer’s choice of vocabulary, with this resource. Learning is reinforced using a composition task and peer assessment.
Take a closer look at poetic forms with this booklet covering everything from haikus to sonnets, including examples of each form.