Thursday, June 7, 2012

Literary Salon on the Bus

My bus ride now.

So I was late to the Avengers party (Tony didn't bring the party to me :'( ), but I finally saw it a few weekends ago, and like many, immediately and tragically fell in love with Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki. Shortly after, I learned via his twitter that he was recording poetry with Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, and Harry Enfield for iF Poems, an iPhone/iPad app.

Granted, I don't have a lot of apps on my phone, but this is my favorite. Until now, the only poetry recordings I had were my two go-to bus listens, T.S. Eliot's readings of his "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" (Listening to "The Waste Land" while riding the 38? At night? Now that's an experience.). With the iF Poems app, I now have 270 poems to read and/or listen to on the bus.

While I'm a text-text-text girl, a recitation of a poem is not just the text, and the reader does matter - greatly. And these people know what they're doing. I was most struck by this when listening to Tom Hiddleston's performance of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," which has never been one of my favs. However, Hiddleston's voice for this poem is so earnest as well as passionate that it ameliorates the pushy-frat-boy feeling the poem can have. When he finally gets to "Now therefore," his case is sounding pretty good, even with the "worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity" grossness just a few lines previous.

Not everyone can pull off "worms gonna screw you anyways" as a pick-up line.

Helena Bonham Carter voices many of the children's poems, which, despite her Bellatrix Lestrange/Mrs. Lovett gothness is familiar ground for her - she voiced the Oscar-nominated short animation The Gruffalo, based on the children's book of the same name. And yeah, she reads a Tim Burton poem.

Bill Nighy's subtly foreboding voice is so well suited for darker poems like William Blake's "The Tyger" and Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee." You can totally see a grizzled, ruined Bill Nighy lying down with a skeleton, can't you? His low growl and Helena Bonham Carter's airier tone work well together for Tennyson's lovely but morbid "The Lady of Shalott."

Girl, did you just steal and deface a boat?

Muni's still crowded and bumpy, but now on my commute it's a lot easier to pretend I'm lounging on a divan while brilliant people read to me. Whether it's via iF Poems or not, I definitely recommend trying out poetry recordings for your phone or MP3 player. It's a nice change of pace. I got my Eliot recordings from the iTunes Store, but I'm sure there are various ways to procure such things. The Academy of American Poets, which I've used to link to the text of the poems mentioned here, has a huge collection of poems on those CD things.

As a sample, here's Laurence Olivier Award winner and upcoming Prince Hal/Henry V Tom Hiddleston reading from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night:

This makes me cast him in every single Shakespeare play in my head. Except Winter's Tale, because blah.

A few notes:

-You get ALL the poems, which is great, but I can see how it would be an issue if you're already short on space on your iPod or iPad.

-The selections do skew younger, but I think that is the point? You're never too old for "The Owl and the Pussycat," though.

-They also skew very British, which is fine, since it's a British app and the British have a pretty good track record when it comes to poetry. ;) Just beware of Dead White Guy syndrome, if that's something you're wary of. Breaking the British penis mold are poets like haiku master Kobayashi Issa and American icon Emily Dickinson.

-You can also make your own recordings, which is cool if unlike me, you can actually get through recording your voicemail greeting without feeling despair.

Image Info:
The Reading painting by Edouard Manet
Tom Hiddleston photo from his Twitter account
The Lady of Shalott painting by John William Waterhouse

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