Much of my favorite literature (like George Perec, and more recently Eunoia by Christian Bök) is written within rigid limits. I was thinking about this when I was reflecting on the text messages my friend and I used to send to each others’ Seiko Messagewatches. The Messagewatch was a pager in the size and shape of a watch that enjoyed a little boom in popularity in the nineties. Here’s a picture:
Seiko saw where things were going with mobile phones and, sadly, decided not to fix a number of Y2K bugs in the Messagewatch system. The service was discontinued on December 31, 1999.
Messagewatches could receive messages — very simple and very short ones. The pagers had simple watch displays so they could only show messages if they would fit and used characters that could be displayed on screen. I remember how difficult it was trying to think of phrasings that could get a given point across while still fitting within the Messagewatch’s limitations.
Because the watch had a two-line display, words would be split automatically as they are in this following example which gives you an idea for the medium messagers were working in:
I remember receiving the message "hey there ace" on multiple occasions. It’s a less than completely ideal phrase because its impossible to display with splitting "there." Ideally, messages would also be structured with spaces in such a way that words would not be split between the lines.
Feeling nostalgic, I thought a good way to honor the memory of the Messagewatch would be with a poem about it. That said, I thought I could both play to my own artistic sensibilities (the "writing within rigid limits shtick") while appropriately memorializing the watch by writing poetry that could be displayed, without words broken between lines, on the display of a Seiko Messagewatch.
That said, there are pretty serious restrictions working in the "Seiko Messagewatch poetry" genre. The executive summary is that:
- No words can contain letters that cannot be drawn unambiguously in upper or lower case without diagonals (i.e., no M, W, X, Z, V, or K);
- No stanza can be longer than 16 characters long (including spaces);
- No single word can be over 8 characters long;
- No series of words can be such that they need to split a word over the line-gap between the 8-9th and characters;
The poem I have created tries to capture my feelings about the Seiko Messagewatch, a technology that was not without warts and limitations but that taken from us all early: the only real Y2K tragedy loss I experienced personally.
Without further ado, my Tribute to the Seiko Message Watch: