For whatever blessed reason, committing poems to memory appears to be back in vogue. Here, Penguin USA and Inkle Studios transport that impulse for learning verse “by heart” from the one-dimensional world of the page to the digital realm’s multimedia expanse with a nifty app.
Readers can download the app for free, then purchase small bundles of thematically grouped classics, creating their own “library” of poems to work through at their own pace. Each poem is tagged with a level of difficulty—Blake’s quatrain “Eternity” is deemed “Easy,” Canto I of the Inferno, “Very Hard”—and prefaced with a brief biographical note. One can read the work in its entirety and/or listen as a voice (female or male) recites the poem. The app’s audio recordings are just serviceable, lacking the drama created by verse performed with a sense of audience. Its most engaging feature sits to the right of each poem, where tapping the “Learn This” button requires the timed filling in of missing words from each clause. One’s score in attempting perfect memorization is then tallied, pinball-machine–like, yielding compliments like “Not bad” and “Amazing.” The sweet reward of successful poetic assimilation awaits on completion of the fifth level of difficulty, when readers can record and save their own recitation of the poem. The repetition involved in attempting such word-for-word recall leads painlessly to fuller comprehension. And while Penguin’s current “poetry store” selections hail from 15 poets as Dead White Male as they come (only Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning represent the fairer sex, and Wallace Stevens alone saw the 20th century), the app provides unique points of entry to famous poems at the lexical level.
A sophisticated, wildly addictive tool for avowed poetry lovers.