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A Roving Typewriter Records the Subconscious of New York City

The Typewriter Project
“The Typewriter Project” in McCarren Park, Brooklyn (photo by Claire Voon/Hyperallergic)

Inside a wooden shack installed at North 12th Street and Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park, anyone can sit down at a typewriter and contribute to a collaborative poem unfolding over a 100-foot paper scroll. “The Typewriter Project: The Subconscious of the City,” presented by the Poetry Society of New York in partnership with the Parks Department, is a nomadic experiment in engaging the public with writing.

The Typewriter Project
“The Typewriter Project” in McCarren Park, Brooklyn (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Before taking up residency in a quiet corner of the Brooklyn park, “The Typewriter Project” launched on Governors Island in 2014, then visited Tompkins Square Park, where it stood under the Hare Krishna tree, followed by STORY in Chelsea and Pen and Brush gallery in the Flatiron district.

“It’s amazing how different the texts have been in the various locations, and it’s also amazing how much the texts actually sound like the subconscious of a city as chaotic as New York when you read them aloud,” co-creator Stephanie Berger told Hyperallergic. “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. 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. It’s wonderful to see how differently each person thinks when they can suddenly write whatever they want.”

The vintage machine clatters like any old typewriter, but it’s USB equipped with a tablet so that all the words are recorded online as well as in ink. Some of the contributions to the Exquisite Corpse–style epic do sound like an oracle of Brooklyn: “Toby Keith as the second shooter check the carfax love will save uslove will save us, violet hearts run crimson tides.” Others muse directly on the city: “DEAR NEW YORK, YOU ARE DIFFERENT NOW. BUT NOT BAD DIFFERENT .. JUST , YOU KNOW, NOT LIKE 1999. love, me.” Messages from tourists [“New YORKN JE VAIS APPRENDRE “) EN VACANCES”] are joined with short verse (“It’s hard to say what happened next / My head still in a haze / To feel the openness of the night / Fade slowly into day”), while some visitors leave long-form prose.

The Typewriter Project
View from inside “The Typewriter Project” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Berger and co-creator Nicholas Adamski are both behind the Poetry Society of New York, which organizes unconventional interactions with poetry, such as the saucy Poetry Brothel and the New York City Poetry Festival on Governors Island, where “The Typewriter Project” will journey from July 30–31. Similar to the Sing for Hope street pianos, “The Typewriter Project” invites passersby to take a creative pause. Sitting inside the booth, with the large window open to the urban landscape, the project offers a private moment to add your voice to a cacophonous chorus of the city.

“I think it’s the creation of this time-capsule-like, massive physical document combined with the fun and ephemeral experience of typing in the booth, and having one’s words immediately beamed up to social media, that gives this project its charm,” Berger said. “There are always going to be typewriters to refurbish, and typewriters are always going to offer a unique and tactile writing experience.”

The Typewriter Project
“The Typewriter Project” in McCarren Park, Brooklyn (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The Typewriter Project
“The Typewriter Project” in McCarren Park, Brooklyn (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Poetry Society of New York’s “The Typewriter Project: The Subconscious of the City” is installed in McCarren Park (North 12th Street and Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through July 24.

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