It is no surprise that Faber and Faber would try to tackle the great behemoth of Modernist poetry that is The Waste Land. T.S Eliot did, after all, work there for 40 years, so what better place would there be to start in digital adaptations? But inevitable questions have to be asked of an app that tries to adapt and engage with such a complex text, and you are forced to wonder whether the adaptation has to be as ambitious as the original, after all, as the app store does say, ‘The Waste Land for iPad brings alive the most revolutionary poem of the last hundred years for a 21st Century audience.’
At the very core of its purpose, The Waste Land refuses to open itself up for a novice readership. Faber have taken on the role of teacher and mentor for the poem, providing what they deem to be an appropriate range of material sourced from their archives, or created for the app. It provides a variety of information, from videos interviewing academics, to a slightly bizarre interpretive reading. Each feature works well with understanding a few elements, but mainly they simply create a more complex reading. The app allows the ability to choose from seven different poets or actors to doing readings, with two different versions of T.S Eliot; they can view annotations of the original manuscript and are offered 22 images related to the poem from an in-built gallery, but these do not aid in the reading or understanding, they instead draw your attention away from the text itself.
The trouble with trying to evolve from the book in its physical form into an app is that the process can omit a traditional opening. That does not mean the first chapter of a book or poem, but instead an introduction, foreword or even an ‘about the author’ page. This is where one might start trying to grapple with the poem, if they were previously unaware of The Waste Land’s impact on culture. They would find an introduction explaining the history of the poem, read the poem (or, perhaps vice-versa) and then move on to explanations of the aesthetics of the poem. But there is no first page to turn to; there are tops and bottoms, but also lefts, rights, ins and outs. There is a menu, yes, but this gives the poem no significance or hierarchy over the rest of the content available. Faber and Faber attempt provide everything to decode the poem, but it starts to feel as though, in an attempt to release a quick digital adaptation, they have simply thrown a previously unseen archive of information into an app and left out the almost essential Prufrock that you come to expect with a hard copy of The Waste Land.
The lack of direction and introduction aside, the app does provide an interesting concept of what can be achieved through digital adaptation. When browsing through the menu and applications it is apparent that aesthetics are appropriate to the text. They are somewhat plain but purposefully academic, though often clunky, with a frustrating fading scrolling feature. For those who were previously aware of T.S Eliot’s purpose in literature, this app would go far to provide a lot of interesting material, but as the makers are fully aware, it is clearly not the next stage in publishing.