William Shatner talks slam poetry app

It's almost 10 PM in London and William Shatner is on the phone, sing-speaking the word "algorithm" to me, trying out various cadences. It feels a bit surreal.

By Leigh Alexander

Photo: Askew II Photography

It's almost 10 PM in London and William Shatner is on the phone, sing-speaking the word "algorithm" to me, trying out various cadences. It feels a bit surreal.

"I love to say the word, although I don't know what it means, aside from writing a numerical formula," he reflects. "I should."

A few hours earlier I'd been drinking at the flat of my old college roommate when I got an email asking if I'd like to talk to Mr. Shatner about his new iPhone app, Shatoetry, that just launched on Friday. Megan and I went to acting school together in New York City nearly a decade ago, and the storm back home is keeping me here, where she now lives, another week.

I tell her I have to interview Wiliam Shatner and we download the app, best described as a sort of magnetic poetry assembler where every word is read in the offbeat actor's distinctive tone. We pass the phone around and assemble phrases, and from within the glass rectangle of the iPhone Mr. Shatner reads them out loud. The app says we are making "Shatisms." Megan can't stop laughing.

"These are the first reactions, and everybody is so positive, I'm delighted," William Shatner tells me on the phone I'm borrowing from the person I'm staying with, after I race back so as not to miss the call. I hang on hold waiting for him to pick up, and in the silence I feel abstractly grateful for gin and jet lag. Thanks to those things, it is just another dreamlike and unbelievable thing when Captain Kirk joins the line and says hello to me, that it's "Bill Shatner" and it's a pleasure to talk to me.

Shatoetry's the debut release for Hollywood-based Blindlight Apps, and Shatner said he loved the concept at first sight. Over the years he's been offered various opportunities to enter the app space, he says, but he was attracted to the fact he hadn't heard of a concept like this one before.

William Shatner does not buy apps. "I don't play games -- I follow directions a lot on the iPhone, and I find the nearest coffee shop. I read the newspapers now from my iPad, and I've got a Nook from which I read books."

"It appealed to the poet in me," he says, "the one that likes to write poetry, and the one that likes to speak it. It's got all the elements of things I like to do. I thought, 'I would buy that app.'"

"So this is your App Store debut," I tell him. "Aside from app development, what's your background, exactly?"

There is a pause and he laughs and I laugh and I tell him I was kidding. He says I sound young and that it's hard to tell if someone is kidding when you cannot see their "bright and shining" eyes. Bill is a charmer.

His elocution, this gleefully-parodic Shatology -- everything about this conversation I'm having, really -- straddles some kind of line between irony and sinere enthusiasm. I ask him whether his interest in poetry and spoken-word falls into either of these camps.

"There's no steadfast belief in one or the other; it's all there," he says. "You can have blank verse, and rhyming poetry and iambic pentameter and there is all kinds of poetry... the rhythm is in the language, and it's all there for the speaking."

For some reason I tell him the friend I'd mentioned who enjoyed his app so much was my friend from acting school. We had speech classes. "So you understand," he says warmly.

For each word in the Shatoetry app, Shatner recorded three different performanes. "You can dramatize your message in any way you want... that's part of the fun of writing the message and communicating with others," he says. Multiple users (Shatner calls players "Shatoetists") can collaborate on and share poems amongst themselves

"I've been involved in all the modern means of communication, but this was totally new. To speak an idea and have it come out in, I guess, an algorithm..."

William Shatner demonstrates three ways he would like to say the word: Starkly, enthusiastically, and then with a pitchy quiver that sounds something like terror.

"There's gotta be other things out there that I have yet to imagine," he says of the future of the App Store. As for the future of Shatoetry, Shatner plans to continue recording spoken word performances to be released as purchasable content for the app.

"I'd like to tell people to get a hold of this thing," he says. "It's totally different than anything else you've seen before and we would love -- and that's Love and love and LOVE -- to have your reaction so that we can fashion the app to your liking."

Love and love and love, he performs.

Shatoetry is $2.99 on the App Store.

Published 5:20 am Tue, Nov 6, 2012


About the Author

Leigh Alexander is editor in chief of Offworld. She's also author of Breathing Machine and Clipping Through, ebooks on games, tech and identity, and recently published MONA, an illustrated moral horror short.

9 Responses to “William Shatner talks slam poetry app”

  1. shutz says:

    When is the Android version coming out?

    I couldn’t find anything to that effect on the developer’s website.  This simple app’s algorithms can’t be that hard to port…

  2. Chentzilla says:

    He basically shat ‘n ‘er.

  3. Jonathan Reeve says:

    If it’s “best described as a sort of magnetic poetry assembler where every word is read in the offbeat actor’s distinctive tone” then it doesn’t sound like that has anything to do with slam, which is a live competition.

  4. Beanolini says:

    I’d much rather have a return to Tom Baker reading my SMS messages.

    (Incidentally, the above surely wins the prize for ‘BoingBoing post that reads most like an advert’)

    • Snig says:

      A Tom Baker app does sound cooler, but I still think this falls under the rubric of “wonderful things”.

  5. Peter says:

    Is “Sabotage” in there?

  6. BradBell says:

    This post made me feel very happy. You should feel very lucky. Thanks :-) See? I even typed a smiley face!

  7. jes5199 says:

    In 2000, I heard Shatner claim that “technology seems to be an evil demon that’s come to destroy us all” – and that he was doing ads for dotcoms without having ever used the internet, because he liked the money. Has he changed?

  8. David Hall says:

    When it hits the Google Play store I’ll buy it, of that there is no doubt.

    But it will be a pity to pay $1.50 a word.  For all mine will ever say is “Denny Crane”.