Poems by Heart is a new app from Penguin Classics designed to help readers memorize great poems. It’s a clever concept. You can browse the available poems and read them—or have them read to you with narration. And when you’re ready to learn the poem, a fill-in-the-blanks game that gets progressively more difficult helps you learn the poem in stages.
The app comes with two free poems, a Shakespeare sonnet and a William Blake poem. I tried the sonnet first because I actually know this one already; I had a college Shakespeare professor who let us earn extra credit by memorizing scenes, and I learned this one (‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?’) to round out the line count on my memorized scene to an even hundred.
The poem was chunked into two sections. The first level of section one presented one line at a time with words missing. You had a bank of words at the bottom and had to choose which went into each missing space. When you were done, you could skip ahead to the next section, or you could play again at a higher level where more of the words were missing and you were using the word bank to construct more of the poem from scratch. Each level of difficulty takes out more of the prompting; if you play through all five, it will assume you are done and suggest that you to go onto the next section.
I tried the Blake poem next since it was new to me. It was the same setup as the other one, but this time I made a few mistakes. The narration gently corrected me (and replaced my incorrect choices with the right ones) but at the end, I still got the checkmark and the invitation to advance if I wished to. There didn’t seem to any penalty for my mistakes.
I’d have liked to see a greater variety of ‘game’ for this. Five levels of fill-in-the-blanks may be an effective way to learn the poem, but man, it was dull! I guess you aren’t meant to play it in one sitting like I did, but still, a little variety wouldn’t have hurt here.
There are other poems available via in-app purchase, but I didn’t like the way they had that set up. There was no ‘buy it all’ option. Instead, the poems were doled out in bundles of four or five, at the cost of 99 cents per bundle. I really hate nickel and diming for this sort of in-app purchase. I think they should have had a ‘buy it all’ option for four or five dollars and left it at that. If they want people to buy individual bundles instead, then they should offer more than just a few poems in each one.
Ultimately, I made the decision not to buy. I do love classical poetry, but the game part was dull and the pricing scheme for unlocking content was, in my opinion, ridiculous. If there had been a way to unlock all the content for a one-time upgrade, I might have bit. But I felt they were being too chintzy in what they were offering for the upgrade bundles, and I wasn’t too interested in the game.
Nice try, Penguin! Maybe next time!