Daily Flarf of 6W9JNTNAKA9E
From The Threepenny Review:
It is a nostalgic poem, so let me start with my own memory of it. Seventeen or so years ago, I came to The Waste Land in the way I then came to most poems—high on caffeine, late at night, crouched on the floor of Moe’s on Telegraph Avenue, coming to books by finding Berkeley jetsam. I would have been alone, away from friends, perhaps en route to a party, perhaps not. I was comfortable in my aloneness. I had no money, so I wore hand-me-down clothes and bought hand-me-down books. On evenings like the one where I first read Eliot, I collected things I liked—Rexroth, D. H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Pound, Levertov. I liked nice books, certainly, but ragged ones, too—the cheaper, more underlined, more battered, the better. I can’t say how much I understood of The Waste Land—I think I read it because it was Eliot, and I knew I should read him. I was ambitious. A lot of it, not merely the epigraph, was Greek to me, but it was sonic Greek. I bought the collected works for $3. I read them in solitary hunger.
I have a distinct memory of that self and that book, and when, seventeen years later, a publication I quite like asked me to review the new iPad app of The Waste Land, it was this memory I had to contend with. When the app—$14 for one poem, displayed on a machine that costs several hundred dollars—emerged ethereally in our kitchen on my husband’s iPad, complete with service announcements and jargonish code, I was ambivalent.
Welcome to the new technology. My first impression of receiving the poem was of being on hold. Despite the app’s ability to appear in our kitchen via download, getting the “book experience” to work took some faceless pro-forma code-filled emails to the iTunes support line (the Greek replaced by the daily flarf of 6W9JNTNAKA9E, at your service). This took a day or so, in spurts. How often these days one has to call customer support: we have traded in laying down our lives in coffee spoons for calls to iTunes. Hold music played. Informational menus repeated. TO SPEAK TO X press 3. I missed the clear simplicity of the book, which you can always open. I missed the dusty scent of Moe’s. I missed the memory of myself reading.
Still, after some sturm und drang, the app got installed. With a finger tap, I opened it. What are the roots which clutch? According to interviews about the app, its publishers, Faber and Touch Press, designed it to put the poem front and center. It felt sort-of center: the app opens to a menu of eight kinds of interactive experience, of which just reading the poem is only the first. Tap “poem” and position the iPad in lengthwise direction and clear text appears. I did. But before I could see T. S. Eliot’s poem, I saw, once again, my own face hovering in the screen. I was in my own way, yet again. “Can you turn off the lights?” I called to my husband, who was reading the newspaper beside me. “I cannot see the poem.”