Pensacola, Florida
Sunday January 21st 2018

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Public Poetry

*Update: Due to projected inclement weather, the Wednesday, Jan. 17 installment of the Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series will be rescheduled. Date to be announced.

By Shelby Nalepa

An immersive poetry installation from New York called The Typewriter Project will be in Pensacola starting next week, allowing locals to help share the dialogue of their city and shape the ongoing project.

Stephanie Berger and Nick Adamski, co-creators of the project, and Robin Blyn, University of West Florida English professor will give a lecture, “The Typewriter Project: Poetry as Public Art,” Wednesday, Jan. 17 as part of The University of West Florida College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series.

“The Typewriter Project: The Subconscious of the City” invites the public to participate in a collaborative poem with the help of a typewriter booth, which will be at the lecture and at two additional locations through Friday, Feb. 16.

By creating a new and unique form of public dialogue, this project hopes to capture something of the sound, narrative, and nuance of specific corners of the city. Berger said that 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.

“Nick and I created The Typewriter Project for a few reasons,” Berger said. “One summer we randomly kept finding typewriters out on the street as garbage, and we started collecting them.”

She said that the “Play Me, I’m Yours” public piano project inspired them as well.

“We loved the public pianos, but neither of us are very good at playing the piano,” Berger said. “We suddenly thought that having typewriters around everywhere for people to type on would be similarly cool and engaging, and an installation like that would be something we could participate in more readily.”

Lastly, Berger said that she and Adamski wanted to find out what people were thinking in these different spots around their city.

“We wanted to hear what the subconscious of different corners of the city sounded like,” she said. “We wanted to give New Yorkers an opportunity to slow down, type on a typewriter, and connect with poetry and their own minds. We also wanted to create the longest Exquisite Corpse of all time.”

Berger said that 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 solitary act of writing can be therapeutic or meaningful to the writer without them ever showing the poem to anyone necessarily,” she said. “Once you put your poetry out into the world, however, and make it public, I think it takes on a new kind of power. It becomes political, in a way, whether or not the work itself is of a political nature because you’re suddenly challenging people to think about language and the ways it shapes our reality as a society.”

The Typewriter Project is a program of The Poetry Society of New York, which Berger and Adamski started as the production company for their project, The Poetry Brothel.

“In fact, we tried to form a company called The Poetry Brothel and the state of New York told us we couldn’t call our company a ‘brothel’ because it implied illegal activity,” she said. “We came up with The Poetry Society of New York because we thought it sounded 200 years old, exceedingly legitimate, and like the perfect front for our brothel. It was only after we formed the company that we began to realize how much more we wanted to do with it. Now The Poetry Society of New York is a 501(c)3 non-profit with the mission of promoting poetry within our culture by finding innovative ways of presenting it to the public.”

Each typewriter booth will be outfitted with a vintage typewriter, 100-foot long paper scroll, and a custom-built USB typewriter kit, which allows every keystroke to be collected, stored and posted online for users to view.

“Nick and I are both very collaborative people at heart,” Berger said. “It’s ironic in a way that we chose poetry as our medium of choice since it is often seen as the loneliest art form. But the fact is that there are lots of different ways to make poetry a collaborative art, whether that’s during the creation of the poems themselves, or in their presentation.”

Another facet of the installation is how a specific place can dictate the tone of a poem.

“I’m always surprised by how different the tone of the writing is depending upon where the installation takes place and what’s happening in the world,” Berger said. “I also think it’s interesting the way so many people treat the booth as a confessional. Perhaps that’s because it somewhat resembles a confessional booth. I don’t mean that in a religious way, but people tend to get really personal and confess things they are afraid to say in their daily lives.”

Berger said that so far, they’ve only done one installation of the project outside of the tristate area, in Raleigh, NC.

“That installation of the project definitely had a more specifically religious and Christian tone than any of the Northeast installation, so I’m very curious to see what the poetry in Pensacola sounds like,” she said.

Berger said that there is no way to contribute to the project incorrectly.

“We encourage you to read what was written before you on the scroll and be inspired by that, but people are also encouraged to write whatever they want-whatever they feel most compelled to express,” she said.

THE TYPEWRITER PROJECT: POETRY AS PUBLIC ART
WHAT: A panel discussion with Stephanie Berger, Nick Adamski and Dr. Robyn Blyn
WHEN: 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Commerce, 201 E. Zaragoza St.
COST: Free
DETAILS: subconsciousofthecity.com

THE TYPEWRITER PROJECT: INSTALLATION LOCATIONS
Wednesday, Jan. 17
Museum of Commerce, 201 E. Zaragoza St.

Thursday, Jan. 18–Friday, Jan. 26
West Florida Public Library, Main Branch, 239 N. Spring St.

Friday, Jan. 26–Friday, Feb. 16
University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, 11000 University Pkwy.