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Buy The Waste Land app for iPad

English: River Thames at London Bridge

English: River Thames at London Bridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I usually buy the new phone, or laptop first and then find out what I can use it for but when I saw The Waste Land App, I bought the iPad just to run it on. Yes, it’s that good. Eliot has had his hooks into me from an improbably young age. I remember consuming a Jack Higgins novel at around ten years old and reading ‘I think we are in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones’ at the opening of a chapter. I didn’t understand the words, but I knew that there was something strange and disturbing about them. An indulgent mother handed over her complete Eliot and I fell in love.

There is nothing gimmicky about Touch Press’ wonderful app. As a teacher, I am having the pleasure of using it to introduce Year 13 to Eliot and decided to open with Fiona Shaw‘s dramatic reading of The Burial of the Dead: the class was rapt. Perhaps because it’s Eliot, megalithic and important, I have always read The Waste Land slowly and carefully, but Shaw’s opening 18 lines are delivered at a sprint and with ventriloquistic versatility. As soon I saw her do this, my understanding of the poem was transformed. Eliot’s working title for the poem was He do the Police in Different Voices – the opening of the poem should sound like flicking between different radio stations. Shaw’s reading is superb and reason enough to buy the app.

The text is clean, yet, with the flick of a switch, the notes from BC Southam’s Student’s Guide appear in the margin. It was a wise decision to keep these notes off the page by default, as, not only do they intimidate the general reader, they imply that all of this information is necessary to engage with the poem. My ten year old self got more from Eliot than my nineteen year old undergraduate self did, as I laboriously pencilled Southam into the margin of the same copy of Eliot that I had read as a child.

If anything, the accompanying videos are more useful, and Craig Raine, Jeanette Winterson, Seamus Heaney and Fiona Shaw, among others, have helpful words for both the new reader and the seasoned hand. The only issue with this app is that the reader is unable to annotate the poem for his or herself but this is a niggle: my annotations to Eliot did little to add to either my understanding, or appreciation of his poetry.

If you own an iPad and you love poetry, buy this app. If love poetry and don’t own an iPad, buy the iPad first.