In Defence of Poetry

As an undergraduate I was very impressed when a lecturer recited one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies to illustrate his point. I forget what the point was, and I now realise that he had probably recited that same soliloquy every year for years, but still, as someone who never had to memorize and recite poetry as part of my schooling, it was impressive.

I’m not overly fond of poetry; I tend to have stumbled over the poems I do enjoy, and they exist in my mind as amorphous shapes from which I can dredge up an occasional half-blurred phrase. There’s something grand and mysterious about being able to remember more than a handy essay quote, as though those capable of reciting poems possess the ability to conjure spirits or move mountains.

Now that I’ve set the scene you’ll hopefully understand my excitement over the Poems by Heart app that Penguin have released, and which I downloaded a few days ago.

The app itself is free, coming with ‘Sonnet 18’ and a William Blake poem I’d never heard of, and allows you to purchase poetry bundles on selected themes, among them: Romantic, Elizabethan, Gothic, Adventures. After an overview of each poem, with audio if you prefer, you fill in the blanks, working through increasing difficulty until you’re ready to recite the poem. Each poem has a difficulty rating (‘Ozymandias’ is easy, ‘Sonnet 18’ medium, and ‘Jabberwocky’ is very hard), so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

This is not an app for those who want a scholarly text, and the range of poems is still quite limited, but I did have fun mastering ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’ and it has introduced me to a few works I’m unfamiliar with, so I recommend it if, like me, you’ve always struggled to remember poems.

Now if you don’t mind, I have to go and learn to conjure spirits and move mountains.