Typewriter Project brings a collaborative artform to Pensacola

By Payne Ray
Staff writer

The University of West Florida’s English Department sponsored the arrival of the Typewriter Project to Pensacola on Jan. 17 as part of a month-long interactive poetry project.

The Typewriter Project: Poetry as Public Art was placed in the Pensacola branch of the West Florida Public Library as a pop-up display booth fitted with a customized typewriter assembly, and will be moved to the John C. Pace Library at UWF on Jan. 27.

“The project is largely inspired by the idea of an Exquisite Corpse, a surrealist writing game in which several authors contribute to one poem,” the project’s website said.

Exquisite Corpse is a game in which players write one line in a poem and take turns writing while only seeing the most recent line written. In the case of the typewriter, the scroll is used to keep only the most recent entries visible to the person currently seated in the booth.

Participants in the booth are encouraged to type anything they would like into the typewriter, which inks the page as well as sending an electronic signal to a tablet which uploads the script to the internet. The electronic copy is available to read online at the Typewriter Project’s website, which is updated frequently with the latest entries.

A Pensacola resident types at the booth. (Photo by Payne Ray)

Robin Blyn, a professor in the UWF English Department, brought the project to Pensacola as part of the Experience UWF Downtown lecture series. The Typewriter Project made its debut in 2014 at the New York City Poetry Festival and was featured in several publications at the time.

“I read about it and I saw some pictures and I thought this is just really cool and I would love to do something like this in Pensacola,” Blyn said.

In September, Blyn saw an opportunity to bring the project to Pensacola as part of the downtown lecture series themed around public art.

After hearing Blyn’s pitch, Jocelyn Evans, Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, contacted Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski of the Poetry Society of New York to bring the Typewriter Project to Pensacola.

Berger and Adamski sent an indoor display booth and delivered the typewriter to Pensacola and intended to speak at a panel downtown on its first day. The event was canceled due to icy weather and was not rescheduled.

Instead, the typewriter was assembled in its current position and opened on schedule for its public display. In the week since the project opened, 3,580 words have been written by Pensacola residents.

“I feel like I should be ice fishing,” one anonymous user wrote.

Other messages were simply snippets or took more poetic forms. Some messages were long paragraphs of factual information or descriptions of the day’s events. One of Blyn’s classes is a capstone course assigned to read and interpret the text.

The Typewriter Project Twitter account tweets an excerpt from the week’s entries. (Photo by Payne Ray)

Gaby Anderson, a student in the course, admired the project and its mission.

“I think it’s really cool, and the idea of introducing the poetic form to the public as a whole and making it accessible to all in such a unique way is really cool,” Anderson said.

Anderson hadn’t spent much time yet examining the text, opting to wait until there’s more of it. The project’s mission statement agrees with Anderson’s sentiment while adding more on.

“The Typewriter Project’s mission is to investigate, document, and preserve the poetic subconscious of the city while providing a fun and interactive means for the public to engage with the written word,” the project’s webpage said.

In its original run the booth was subtitled “The Subconscious of the City,” but according to Blyn, its presence in Pensacola also carries an additional message.

The subtitling of “Poetry as Public Art” is meant to convey the idea of poetry’s place in the public sphere.

Blyn made the argument that poetry has historically been a performative art, delivered in front of audiences as an oral tradition rather than a written one.

“It’s only in modern times that it’s become this very private thing,” Blyn said.

The typewriter booth’s positioning in a library was not an accident.

UWF offers a quick set of instructions for typewriter operation.

Blyn and others determined that the best place for the booth would be somewhere that everyone in Pensacola would find approachable, and the library appeared to be the best place suited to that.

It is that idea which will see the Typewriter Project transferred to the John C. Pace Library on UWF’s Pensacola campus for the second half of its time in the city. The booth will be on display in its new location Saturday for UWF students to participate.

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