Satisfying Clicking Sound: W.B. Yeats and Steve Jobs, Together at Last

Slate's Culture Blog
May 8 2013 1:27 PM

Satisfying Clicking Sounds

yeatsjobs
William Butler Yeats, left, in a 1911 photo by George Charles Beresford. Steve Jobs, right, on the cover of Walter Isaacson's biography.

Wikipedia/Amazon.

A year and a half ago, in a critical Slate review of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I cited a several anecdotes about the Apple CEO that had surfaced after his death. Among them was one story about the time Jobs asked engineers working on the iPod to stay up all night to adjust the device’s headphone jack so that “it made a more satisfying clicking sound.”

Something about the phrase “satisfying clicking sound” stuck with Jason Guriel, a poet who lives in Toronto and is a big fan of Slate. Guriel, who has published two collections and has a third coming next year, says the line reminded him of a quote often attributed to Yeats: That great poems end with the “click of a well-made box.” (The actual Yeats line is slightly different.)

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“Some poets like to create problems for their readers,” Guriel told me in an email. “I like to create problems for myself—and then see if I can write my way out. The problem in this case: could I begin a relatively short poem with Yeats’ prescription for how a poem should end—and then somehow write my way toward a satisfying conclusion? I was being ambitious—or maybe just looking for trouble.”

The result is “Satisfying Clicking Sound,” the only poem I know of to have been inspired by a line I’ve written. (Well, other than “The Headline Poetry of Farhad Manjoo & Slate,” by Reuters editor Paul Smalera—though that’s mostly a joke.) I didn’t hear about “Satisfying Clicking Sound” when it was first published last year in Taddle Creek, a Canadian literary magazine, but I discovered it this week when Taddle Creek announced on Twitter that the poem had been selected to appear in the 2013 anthology of Best Canadian Poetry (one of the more worthwhile Canadian initiatives).

The anthology will be published in the fall, but you don’t need to wait to read “Satisfying Clicking Sound.” Guriel has allowed us to publish it here, in full:

Satisfying Clicking Sound
By Jason Guriel

“There was the (alleged) time he asked engineers on the original iPod team to stay up all night fiddling with the headphone jack so that it made a more satisfying clicking sound.” —Farhad Manjoo, on Steve Jobs.

This poem, says what’s
his Yeats, better
close with the click
of a well-made box—but
he’s vague on the specific make
of click. Is it one chirp
of a cricket, sifted
from its field
of creaks and isolated
on its own track?
A swan’s neck high-
heeled until it goes crack?
Or is it richer sound—
a couple of castanets
cut from the bones of a pair
of Marie Antoinettes
and clacked the once
and disposed of?
Whatever, it better
resound. We trust
a diary will keep its word
under lock and key or stay
mum on the names
of persons we wish
to sleep with—but the clasp
when we close it
better cluck its tongue
cleanly. What’s grating
is the indefiniteness
of the death rattle-
ragged, the way
we have to guess
which one’s the last
gasp by waiting
out the sequence.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.