TS Eliot’s The waste land, app-style

TS Eliot plaque SOAS London

Would Eliot have liked this new way of publishing? (Image, via Wikipedia, released into Public Domain by Man vyi)

Hands up if you’ve seen Touchpress‘s gorgeous iPad app for TS Eliot‘s poem The wasteland? Now, if your hand is up, why didn’t you tell me about it? Luckily, though, I have a real-life, dinky-di librarian friend who told me what my online friends didn’t!

This is not going to be a proper review as I only downloaded it yesterday, but it’s worth sharing sooner rather than later. At least , I think it is, because it’s a great example of how technology can enhance our reading experience, particularly of complex texts. The app comprises the following menu items:

  • Poem (the full text)
  • Performance (a filmed performance of the full poem by Fiona Shaw. You can watch the performance on its own, or with the text synced to it!)
  • Manuscript (facsimile of the original typed manuscript showing Eliot’s handwritten edits)
  • Perspectives (commentary on the poem and Eliot, by various people including Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson)
  • Readings (several audio renditions of the poem, including two by Eliot himself, and others by Alec Guinness, Ted Hughes and Viggo Mortenson)
  • Notes (annotations and references explaining the poem)
  • Gallery (images relating to the poem).

There is a Home icon so you can quickly return to the menu screen to navigate around the app. And there are also well thought through navigations on other screens. For example, on the screen containing the straight text of the poem are icons linking directly to the annotations (Notes) and the list of audio versions (Readings).

I feel like the proverbial child in a lolly shop. Where do I start? Do I simply read the poem? Probably not, since if that’s all I wanted to do I’d have taken my lovely old Collected Works down from my bookshelf. So, what do I do? Do I read it with the annotations? Or listen to TS Eliot read it or watch Fiona Shaw perform it? Or do I play around with the edited manuscript facsimiles? Whatever I do, though, I’ll be in good company. The app – for a rather challenging poem, remember – was one of the topselling apps the week it was released and was named “app of the week” in the US.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter
(line 18, The waste land)

It will take many nights to read, watch and absorb this terrific production, but it’s winter here so I’m starting now…

TS Eliot
The waste land
iPad app (AUD16.99) 
Touch Press and Faber and Faber, 2011

17 thoughts on “TS Eliot’s The waste land, app-style

  1. I thought The Who wrote it?

    Nuts, I was hoping it was also a Mac app.

    A play we saw in Ashland, August: Osage County, began and ended with Eliot references; the last words of the play were a repetitious “this is the way the world ends”.

    • I’ve been feeling for a while that it’s time I revisited Eliot so this is a great opportunity. Shame though that it’s not more widely available. I wonder if they’ll consider it?

    • It is … in fact, I’d call it delicious. I’m still dipping in like an overwhelmed child in a toystore rather than following one angle BUT tomorrow I’m going to watch Fiona Shaw’s performance right through!

  2. Going to download it right this minute. It’s a shame there isn’t one for ‘Four Quartets’ (I’m making an assumption there) because one of my book groups has just read a book that referenced it and some of the group hadn’t read the poem, which was a pity because there was nothing else particularly good to say about the actual book we’d read!

  3. It makes me happy to think you have something to look forward to playing with so much! Happy enough that I forget to be disgruntled that you’re so much more tech-savvy than your daughter 😉

  4. I heard about this app last weekend on public radio. It sounded really cool. It also got my husband, who has never read Eliot before, to pull an audiobook CD we have of Eliot reading his poetry off the shelf. He’s been listening to it over and over in his car to and from work all week because he loves it so much. It’s been ages since I’ve read Eliot and my husband’s sudden enthusiasm is making me think that perhaps it’s time I dip in. Enjoy your app!

    • How great that it got someone reading Eliot. He’s one of the poets I fell in love with after studying him at school. I still have my text. But I do recollect that there were many allusions in his poetry that went over my head. This app will make picking up many of those so much easier – not just for the annotations which of course you cAn get in printed versions – but for the various commentaries.

  5. So sorry I didn’t tell you about this one! 😉 It got a lot of coverage in the UK media, and the Twittersphere went into a bit of an orgy the day it was released. I think its success will pave the way for so many other classics — books, poems — to be explored (exploited?) in this manner. I’d love to see one about James Joyce’s Ulysses, but you’d probably need an extra hard-drive to cope with all the information!!

    • Apology accepted! I think it was released the week between my Japan trip and my Pilbara one … that week was a blur for me. Yes, I’m sure we will see more … I have my own hopes re some Australian literature too, but we’ll have to wait and see.

      I watched the Fiona Shaw performance over breakfast in bed this am … it was wonderful. If you turn the screen to portrait orientation you get the poem text running at the bottom synced to the performance. I liked that. Now I want to watch some of the commentaries, such as Heaney and Winterson.

  6. What a super app! I must say that I’m surprised to hear that it’s the top selling app and voted ‘app of the week’. What a literary crowd iPad users are. And what enjoyment you’ll get to pass your winter days… and nights. (just wondering how cold does it get?) Anyway, I’m glad to see Viggo Mortensen is also in it. He’s one talented actor. BTW, just yesterday I watched the trailer of “A Dangerous Method” with him as Sigmund Freud.

    Anyway, thanks for this post, whisperinggums. It’s exciting to see how technology can integrate with the literary to offer greater enjoyment for readers.

    • Thanks Arti … and yesterday I heard that Penguin have released an app that sounds a little similar in concept for Kerouac’s On the road. It’s going to be interesting. As for iPad users, I saw a report yesterday that said that tablet users are 66% more likely than the average US adult to be print magazine consumers, and 63% more likely to read print newspapers. That possibly makes them/us a more literary crowd too?

      Anyhow, I agree it is rather exciting. I must say that I love the iPad though I prefer to read the kindle as the latter is easier on the eyes. But I loved watching Fiona Shaw’s performance of the poem. It took roughly 15-20 mins and I rotated the pad so that I could see the poem synchronised. It was wonderful. Her reading, being called “a performance”, was more expressive (or should I say dramatic) than some of the others but not too much so I thought.

      Having been away for much of May/June I’m totally out of touch with movies but hope to go to one this week. Did A dangerous method look good?

      • You’ve just reminded me the reason I didn’t get the iPad is that it’s so bright and glossy, very bad for my eyes. Even with my Mac Book Pro, I’ve applied an anti-glare film on it, or else it’s so tiring and makes me see double. A Dangerous Method looks good, it’s about the relationship between Freud and Jung (Michael Fassbender, Rochester in the new Jane Eyre), Keira Knightly is also in it. But it’s not screening yet. However, one movie you Must See, and that’s the new Woody Allen Midnight In Paris, you’ll love it! A delight. If you’re interested you may like to read my review, not only that, but comments on that post.

  7. How are you getting on with this a week on? I had noticed it, but hadn’t realised quite what it was. Oddly enough I’ve been rereading Prufrock a lot recently, so this could be quite timely.

    The only audio book I own is Seamus Heaney reading his Beowulf. If apps like this help return the concept of oral poetry I’d be hugely in favour.

    • Wonderfully Max. In fact I’m drafting a follow up post now on what I’ve been doing with it. I think it’s a lovely way to reintroduce myself to the poem and, to some degree, the era. I think offering poetry like this has the potential to reinvigorate poetry.

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