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Anyone Can Contribute to This Giant Poem…if You Can Find This Typewriter

A roving typewriter tries to capture New York’s subconscious

smithsonian.com

During the last few years, a small, wooden shack has made its way around New York City. Containing nothing else but a seat, a typewriter, and a 100-foot-long scroll of paper, the booth is part of a wandering project working to engage everyday New Yorkers by giving them a chance to contribute to a long, ongoing poem.

The result of a partnership between the Poetry Society of New York and the Parks Department, “The Typewriter Project” has set up shop in parks all over the city since 2014. The first year, it was tucked away in a corner of Governors Island – since then, the typewriter has roamed to Tompkins Square Park, Chelsea, the Flatiron District, and now to Brooklyn’s McCarren Park, Sydney Narvaez reports for NBC New York.

“People’s entries have ranged from the guy who comes every day to add to his serialized piece of fiction to a baby or dog banging out what reads as total gibberish,” Typewriter Project co-creator Stephanie Berger tells Allison Meier for Hyperallergic. “We’ve also seen everything in between: notes to passed loved ones, letters to friends, lines of poetry, short recollections from a person’s day, passing thoughts, jokes, random collections of words that someone thought of, bits of dialogue, promotional text, rants.”

The sound of typewriter keys clacking away might add to the folksy charm of the project, but the words written on it aren’t just printed on paper: they’re uploaded to a constantly growing online repository. Hidden away in the booth is a tablet linked to the typewriter via a USB connection that records every keystroke and posts it on the Typewriter Project’s website for anyone to see, Meier reports.

“There are philosophical quandaries (‘What is a question? Was that a rhetorical question?’) and lyrical poems,” Benjamin Mueller and Tatiana Schlossberg write for the New York Times. “There are also, of course, entries that stretch the boundaries of poetics (‘This is a save point. The Zombies cannot eat me this time’) and others littered with typos.”

The results may range from silly to significant, but at the end of the day, Berger hopes that allowing passersby to sit down at a typewriter and add to the project’s collection will help them think about poetry differently in the future, Meier writes. Getting the opportunity to see what other before them have written may also inspire people to look at their neighbors in a new light.

"I think that poetry needs a new connection with people and this definitely does that," Shabazz Larkin, a New Yorker who recently took a turn at the typewriter, tells Narvaez. "It's incredible, I'm jealous I don't have one of these in my house."

The Typewriter Project is stationed inside McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn through July 24. It is open Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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