Victorian Poetry Network "much to do with Victorian poetry"

App Review: iF Poems
Posted by

This is a beautiful app, aimed at children but very attractive to anyone interested in poetry. I downloaded it a while ago (£2.99 from the iTunes store) and have been playing around with it for a while, wondering what I might use it for. But, first off, its design is just so appealing that exploring the contents is a joy. The illustrations by Natasha Law are simple and stunning, and the app structure and layout intuitive and sleek. The readers of the poems, Helena Bonham Carter. Bill Nighy, Tim Hiddleston and Harry Enfield, are inspired choices, with clear and colourful reading voices, and the poems featured (mostly canonical, and many Victorians) include for me an intriguing balance between old favourites and newly discovered gems. Plus there’s the added draw of the app’s donation of 10% of its sales profits to the charity Save the Children.

I test-run the app unexpectedly, when I suddenly had to take my 5 year-old son to the local walk-in clinic (translation for British readers: an emergency GP’s surgery where you take your chances with the queue). During a very long wait, when he was in pain and rather unhappy, I entertained him by trying out the app. We looked at the category “Tell me a tale” (it WAS a long wait!) and he chose Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, not one that had audio already, but nonetheless I read it all to him (in a something of an awkward whisper…the clinic was busy…but Victoria is overrun with academics and no one raised an eyebrow at this behaviour!). There are no illustrations to the poem, and no built-in audio (I could have used the “record” option to capture my own reading, but that did seem a little too performative in public…), but nonetheless the app did its job to enthral a child with poetry. Even an unhappy, unwell child.

The app does have some very useful options: to “Play all Audio”, running through a playlist of each pre-recorded poem; to search for a poem by title, author, first line or word;  to “favourite” poems (including your own recordings); to email a poem; to add a poem of your own making (and then record it). In addition, the categories of poems are especially appealing to children (such as “magic”, “short and sweet”, “bedtime”), and each one is also organized by age group. Some of the Victorian poets included are William Allingham, Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Hugh Clough, Mary Howitt, Rudyard Kipling, George MacDonald, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tennyson, and Isaac Watts. An embarrassment of riches.

The presentation of poems in the app focuses on the speaking voice (the embedded audio or recording your own or your child’s reading), drawing attention to the sound of the poems and to the shape of the words on the page for a young pre-reader, which is certainly appropriate for the lyric, but a narrative poem may need the added help of more illustration. See this screenshot, for example, of Stevenson’s “Good and Bad Children”, where there is a tantalizing margin of illustration, but the focus is the words:

For older children who can read, this app would be perfect for encouraging the reading and writing of poems, and indeed the link between them. There’s even a category “About Poetry”, with examples of different forms (ballad, couplet, haiku, limerick… to a poetry scholar’s ear). The options to write poems and to record them are enticing and innovative, and I’m looking forward to exploring this more with my children. In the meantime, this app is not only useful for entertaining a child (and to evade the ubiquitous Angry Birds), but also for encouraging poetry reading and writing as fun, interactive explorations of words and sounds. The whimsical, endearing, and thoughtful ethos of the iF Poems app, riffing off Kipling to imagine “an app that used words instead of weapons”, shows that poems, as well as angry birds, can capture a child’s attention. But I’m wondering if the app could also be adopted in Victorian poetry undergraduate classes, as part of a conversation about reciting, performing, and even consuming poetry.

Leave a Reply