My first post in 2013 turns out to be on the last day in January. How can this be? Illness – my own and that of others in the family. I only mention this because it has shaped my choice of reading in a month when reading fell away – I just couldn’t concentrate.
Fiddling with my iPad – new Christmas ‘toy’ – turned out to be the perfect activity. This month most of my literary nourishment came in the form of two iPad Apps. Both are from Touch Press – T S Eliot’s The Waste Land and Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Both offer multiple ways of encountering the text – hearing them read, looking at facsimile manuscripts and first editions, reading the text with notes alongside. All this and different permutations of all of the above. I began to favour having the video of a reader on the top of the screen with the text beneath – half way between reading and being read to.
I’m not that keen on actors reading poetry but most of those reading the Shakespeare sonnets do a grand job, showing that there are many ways to breathe meaning into the words. Most of the time I enjoyed allowing the language to play like music. I particulary enjoyed Ben Crystal reading with the original pronounciation, allowing us to hear a sonnet as an Elizabethan might have heard it; something altogether more earthy.
However, if a phrase or word doesn't yield its meaning from the context or the reader’s intonnation you simply touch the screen at that point and up pop the Arden Shakespeare notes.
If you’re feeling more like doing a close reading you can opt for the notes menu and alongside the poems you can select three different options – the Arden Shakespeare notes, the accessible and idyocyncratic commentary of poet Don Paterson, and you can make your own notes. How good is that?
And when you’ve done with the poems there are scholars and critics giving opinions both as video and text.
The same flexibilty applies to The Waste Land. Worth the price alone for readings by Eliot himself, from 1933 and 1947 and by Ted Hughes – spine-tingling.
I'm less keen on Fiona Shaw’s reading. I know it’s poem in many voices and she does distinguish each one, but at times with a little too much force.
Again, there are video commentaries on the text. I particularly enjoyed those from Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson.
I can’t think of a better way to engage with these enduring poems. The app form allows you to read as rigorously as any scholar or as a more casual reader or simply as a listener. And there is much to be gained, simply by listening.
Don Paterson talks of recovering Shakespeare’s sonnets from the reverence that can surround the Bard. That is just what these apps do. They remove any sense of reverence. Instead, they foreground the pleasure and power of language and thought.