A typewriter in a public park turns hundreds of people into poets
On a sun-drenched afternoon on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, friends meet to play chess or chat. A summer-time malaise drips off of trees and onto benches, where philosophers rest like Rodin sculptures. Suddenly, indistinct clinking radiates from the booth hidden on a side path; inside, a boy clacks on a typewriter. Rumor has it that he comes everyday to take his turn on the machine, inspired by birds’ chirps, kids’ shouts, and the tool at his fingertips.
Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski sit nearby, peacefully watchful. Stephanie’s got strawberry hair and the kind of disposition that exudes warmth and energy. Nicholas gives off the air of a pirate, more reminiscent of Jack Sparrow than Blackbeard. He lacks a filter, which can prove endearingly raucous.
They both have a twinkle in their eye that means mischief.
Stephanie glances over to the booth at her left. “They’re actually really fun to type on because it’s a very physical thing,” she says. “You actually have to use your body to type on a typewriter.”
Nicholas chimes: “It’s super tactile. It makes noises.” His voice is eager, like a child who’s just been given an ice cream cone.
Stephanie bursts into laughter. “When you watch somebody doing it, I feel like you want to do that thing also.”
Together, they founded the Typewriter Project, a portable installation visiting Tompkins Square Park until July 19. Enclosed in a wooden box, a typewriter awaits as people line up to try their hand at old-school technology. Every word scrawled onto the tangible page makes its way through the Internet ether and onto a website that chronicles the exquisite corpse so that authors can see their work in cyber space.
Since the booth opened last month, it’s garnered tremendous popularity among diverse demographics. 85-year-olds go to remember the past. Youngsters enjoy the bustle of it — how they can engage with the machine as a toy and a resource. Teens and young adults find it a soothing confessional for their sins, their woes, their heartbreaks. But most of all, it’s got this undeniable allure that’s “infectious,” as Nicholas puts it.
“That booth is sexy,” he smizes. “If we were to make a dark, Ikea-furnished bedroom and be like, ‘come experience what it’s like to be a grad student,’ people would be like, ‘ugh, I don’t want to go in there!’ But this is on Walden Pond in the middle of Tompkins Square Park. You’ve got your tiny little writing cabin, and you’re just in there isolated, having a moment.”
Though he and Stephanie are both poets and run The Poetry Society of New York, when it comes to the Typewriter Project, they don’t discriminate based on genre. Visitors can share Bible verses, gibberish, chapters, shout-outs to friends and family, or even an apology to a long lost lover. Entries run the gamut from brooding to comical. Here’s a recent sample:
“How many days will we let fashion dictate outcome
how many days will we sleep into stone
how many years til she finds his tragic kingdom
how many nights on her throne”
“All i wanted to know was what happens to us when the moon flies away.”
“I give credit to f scott fitz and the darling dorothy parker. how horrible to type the great gatsby on this. horrible, but real. old writers used to sweat and cramp. their work was athletic and beautiful. i am a clumsy mess compared to the gold medalists. so is a newborn foal once a stumbling mess…. turns into sea biscuit.”
“For a while I was
in haiku. it stopped
giacinta 2 july 2015”
While Stephanie and Nicholas don’t see a concrete point to their project, they do view their motives as two-pronged. One is to offer the layman a venue to explore the therapeutic qualities of recreational writing. The other is more personal — as artists, they want to know what runs through the subconscious of their city.
“We’re incredibly fascinated by language, so we’re kind of just curious to see what comes out of it,” Stephanie explains. “We want to see and hear what the public sounds like when they sit and try to reflect like that. What does it sound like inside all of these people’s heads as a collective entity?”
They could not have chosen a better town to search for the thrum of a common heartbeat. Poetry exists in every nook and cranny of New York. It’s in the gesture of a ballerina at Lincoln Center. In the way two stranger dogs play at Central Park. In the architecture that lines avenues on a long walk across the island. In the view of Brooklyn as the Q train flies across the Manhattan Bridge. In the rain that pours down on an eve in Koreatown and the rush of waves on a Wednesday at Rockaway Beach. New Yorkers live and breathe poetry. The Typewriter Project is just giving us a place to see it.
Check out the writing collected by The Typewriter Project here.
(Images via Instagram.)