July 9, 2015

Typewriters Present: Poetry


While some of us over here are still calling fad at diligent typewriters citywide, the folks at The Poetry Society of New York have been hard at work with the New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation to put these anachronisms to public use. Type away, The Typewriter Project: “a series of site-specific literary installations which invite passersby to join in a citywide linguistic exchange that exists in both the analog and digital realms.” A long way of saying that a specially customized USB Typewriter™ Tompkins Square Park has been placed in the luscious East Village for us to do something with. Ahem, craft “something of the sound, narrative, and nuance of specific corners of the city.”

Writing from the installation is posted on the project’s website. On display is everything from love notes and movie quotes to real gems like: “One day the silicone ninja was with the rest of the ninja anfthen the evil robots attacked.”

But more than just manning typewriting booths, the Poetry Society also runs the annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island and the Poetry Brothel year round. The later, for the uninitiated, takes the humdrum poetry reading and recasts it as a Cabaret-stylized bordello providing one-on-one intimate readings, in LES speakeasies, underground music festivals, and on-site at the Poetry Festival itself.

Last year, I helped set up the first installation of The Typewriter Project, as an accompaniment to a festival lineup that featured readings from poets like National Book Award winner Mark Doty and New Yorker Poetry Editor Paul Muldoon. This year, with the likes of Nick Flynn and Patricia Spears Jones taking to those same stomping grounds, I had the chance to talk with Stephanie Berger, co-founder of The Poetry Society of New York, about both the Typewriter Project, which has been getting some high profile attention, and the coming festival later this month.

(Image via Stephanie Berger)

(Image via Stephanie Berger)

Last year, The Typewriter Project was just starting out. Now in its third installation, at Tompkins’ Square Park, I wondered if there were any particular kinds of location you are looking for or places you’d love to move on to next?

Berger: We LOVE doing them in parks. Outdoor public spaces are definitely key for us. I’d love to see one in Bryant Park and near the Cloisters. It would also be great to do one under the Brooklyn Bridge somewhere. ​We’d really love to see several installations active simultaneously in all 5 boroughs.

As a site-specific installation, how do you hope the particular natures of the site affect the kind of writing being created? Has it?

​​Berger: It definitely has. ​I’m fascinated by the text that is coming out the Tompkins Square Park installation. First of all, it’s more readable than any of the previous installations because we have staff there at all times teaching people to use the typewriter if they don’t know how. But the installation at the poetry festival produced almost exclusively poetry and/or attempts at poetry. This one produces ALL KINDS of text in several languages– letters, dialogue, stories, elegies– everything! It’s amazing. It feels like the first time the project has been launches as we envisioned it.

The New York Times recently remarked that the small booth “resembles a confessional.” Did you find anything secretive or intimate about the things people wrote?

Berger: I think there is definitely a confessional mode being employed in a lot of the text that is written. It’s interesting. Typing on that typewriter with the wind blowing through the trees and the smudgy ink​, you wouldn’t intuitively imagine that everything you write is getting uploaded to the internet for all to see.

On the website, you sat that you’re interested in “creating a new and unique form of public dialogue.” Are there any plans for publishing or putting them out in any other capacity – a best-of anthology of kinds, a public reading, etc?

Berger: ​We are planning on displaying the scrolls at the New York City Poetry Festival this summer, and I’d love to set up a reading from the scrolls once the Tompkins Square Park installation wraps. Nick [Adamski, fellow Poetry Society co-founder] and I are also talking about doing an erasure of the scrolls and trying to create a long poetic tribute to the city using the text.

​​You also talk about being inspired by the surrealist writing game, Exquisite Corpse and the project is interestingly submitted The Subconscious of the City – are there any other contemporary art installations or movements that either inspired or informed the project in some capacity?

Berger: Yes, Luke Jerram‘s “Play Me, I’m Yours” public piano project definitely sparked the idea for us. We loved the idea, but neither of us are good enough at the piano to feel comfortable playing in public. Typing on typewriters we can do!

Something I really enjoyed at last year’s festival were the variety of interactive art installations that accompanied the performances, like Michael Krasowitz’s poetry-themed printing making station. Anything similar in store this year?

​​Berger: Yes, I’m very excited for the installations we have coming up this year! There will be a “Craft your own epitaph” station called “Word Graveyard” by artist Christine Stoddard as well as “to touch” by Rachel Ossip, “an extra-large, transparent, crowed-sourced poem that one can wander through.”

The Poetry Brothel will also be installed right by the Festival, setting up its burlesque camp in one of Governor’s Island’ artist residencies. Care to talk about how the Brothel has grown over the past year?

Berger: It’s been a big year for The Poetry Brothel! In addition to holding our regular monthly series at the Back Room in New York City, we’ve been taking things on the road! Nick and I took our very first tour of our branches in Europe last fall and set up the first Poetry Brothel in Paris while we were there. Since then we’ve traveled to Paris twice for events and have already planned a west coast tour — LA, San Francisco, and Portland– for October of this year. We also did our first festival (outside of the New York City Poetry Festival). We set up a decadent fin-de-sìecle brothel in the middle of the forest in Rothbury, Michigan for the Electric Forest Festival. It was amazing. ​

The Typewriter Project‘s installation at Tompkins Square Park is open for the public Monday-Friday, 3pm to 8pm, and Saturday & Sunday, 12pm to 8pm until July 19th.

The New York City Poetry Festival takes place July 25th and 26th, on Governor’s Island from 11am to 6pm. It is open to public, free of admission.