Stuck Shift Key Poetry

<> !*”#
%*<> ~#4


“Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH.”

Fred Bremmer and Steve KroeseStuck Shift Key Poetry (Net Funny)

This interesting bit of geek poetry illustrates the orality of poetry. On the rare occasions when I get the chance to code, I tend to do it alone; and on the rare occasions when I do discuss programming, I sometimes have difficulty with the specialized vocabulary. This poem dates from about 1990, so I have no idea whether the transliteration still works with the current generation of programmers. How about it, Jess, Will, Rosemary, and any lurkers out there?

As for the poem itself, to read it aloud you have to pace yourself to follow the pattern set by the first line. The first line begins with two trochees (BAH buh), while the second line begins with a trochee and a single stressed beat — that gives only three syllables to cover the space previously occupied by four. The phrases “bang splat” and “back-tick” match up, but where the first line has “tick tick” the second line asks you to say “dollar dollar,” squeezing four syllables into the space previously occupied by two.

So this text, when read aloud, is really following an invisible musical notation. The first line reads as if it is six quarter notes and the final “hash” is a half note — and that sets the pattern for the other lines. Line four is awkward because it starts with an unstressed syllable, but otherwise the pattern still fits. Still, “Vertical-bar” in the last line simply doesn’t fit — you either have to pronounce all three syllables of “Vertical” on one quarter-note and “bar” on the other, or spread out all the syllables equally, which makes a stress fall on “cal” (which should definitely be unstressed). At first I thought the acceleration in the final line was deliberate, since it leads to the “CRASH”, but it’s only the first foot that rushes — the rest of the line falls back into the steady pattern.

Spotted in “Poegram” on MGK’s “Digital Studies” course website.