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Why Faber Voices is well worth shouting about


Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and co speak for themselves in 20-minute poetry selections for iPhone and iPad

The biggest cheer on Room 101 the other week came when John Craven said he wanted to banish ebooks to oblivion. I can't remember his reasons, nor Frank Skinner's defence: the print versus "e" non-debate is so yawningly predictable that I zoned out. What is it about our culture that forces us to pick sides?

As any former presenter of a current affairs programme should know, nowadays all sensible people are bi-textual, opting for digital or paper when it suits. Claiming one is better than the other is just silly. Except sometimes "e" beats print hands down. Faber's new poetry series for iPhone and iPad, Faber Voices, is a shimmering case in point.

Twenty-minute selections of works by Faber's finest (launch quartet: Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and Wendy Cope), set out cleanly on a white background, these ebooks appear simple, especially after Faber's all-singing all-dancing The Waste Land and Shakespeare's Sonnets apps. Crucially, they're fixed format, meaning that the poets' original line breaks are preserved. Differently sized screens and fonts can wreak havoc with poetry.

But the biggest draw is the voices: as you read, you can hear the poems being read by the poets themselves. Even the most gorgeously bound book can't compete with the wonder of hearing Ted Hughes pronouncing "grimace" with a long "a" in "Wind", or Philip Larkin stressing the second syllable of "cafes" in "The Whitsun Weddings".

In a way, these reasonably priced ebooks (£2.99 each) are even more exciting than Faber's apps. These are for everyday consumption, for dipping into on the commute, or passing the time when you're waiting for someone. By appealing to the millions who are left cold by poetry on the page but love it read aloud, Faber Voices could bring poetry books to a whole new audience.

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