Reflections on the Typewriter Project

The booth went up in minutes. The typewriter was secured in place—“It’s going to shift when people use it. The screws keep it from going too far.” The 100-foot long roll of paper scrolled through the machine. And it was showtime.

The Typewriter Project booth

The Typewriter Project is part poetry installation, part art installation. It’s the brainchild of the Poetry Society of New York, but you can rent it for functions pretty much wherever. And on July 28th and 29th, I helped to run it at the New York City Poetry Festival. Anyone could go into the booth and add a few lines to the exquisite corpse–style poem (the transcript of which should go up online here).

Honestly, the New York City Poetry Festival as a whole was an Amazing Event I’d Never Heard About Before (there are many, so I capitalize it). It always takes place the last weekend in July, and has for the past several years taken up residence on Governor’s Island. It’s filled with poetry readings and poets selling their work. There’s also art, food, and fun.

The world is an amazing place right now, because the internet can connect so many people and so many communities that are otherwise solitary. Despite this, reading and writing poetry sometimes feels very isolationist. The NYCPoFest brought all sorts of people together, some of whom only see each other once a year, and linked everyone through poetry and love, which was fantastic.

And the Typewriter Project was (and is!) a very tangible way to show that link.

Not only did people get to use the project to participate in the poetry writing, people also were able to gather around to read what people had already written that day. The 100-foot long scroll lay in the grass and people bent down to see how far the poem had progressed, and to show their friends and family the things they’d written already.

The Typewriter Project participants

It was also the first time a lot of people there ever got to use a typewriter.

A lot of people weren’t really sure how to go about using the machine—they’d sit there with their hands over the keys and they’d look at me with uncertainty and say, “Now what?” But the overall reaction was that they felt so much more connected to the work they created. Each letter they typed was deliberate, with force and confidence. I don’t think there’s a timid way to type on a typewriter.

The Typewriter Project typewriter

The pinnacle of the whole experience, for me, was when I got to use the project. I sat in the booth, the scroll of poetry trailing several feet in front of the installation. I looked out at the festival, and the people discussing poetry, reading poetry, walking around, and soaking up poetry. Now, I might not be the greatest poet. I doubt my poetry will go much farther than the documents file on my computer. But for that one moment, I was part of the larger web of poetry. No longer isolated, but part of the verse.

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