A public art project offers up typewriters for the masses
Governor’s Island The note was anonymous.
Typed in lowercase on a scrap piece of lined notebook paper, it was addressed to ‘dearest matthew.’
“i have had a wonderful day with you,” the note read, and continued: “what if i hate your friends”
Nicholas Adamski and Stephanie Berger, co-founders of the Poetry Society of New York, found the note on Governor’s Island, crumpled up in the small wooden booth of their new art installation the Typewriter Project, a pilot in a site-specific public art series. The society aims to introduce similar booths throughout the city, each outfitted with a typewriter and a 100-foot role of paper.
“We can look back at the New York School or the Beats and these were the people who were writing, whose work survived,” said Adamski. “Or they were famous, or literary magazines published them, but this is super egalitarian. Anyone who wants to can just sit down and write something.
“Like, what the fuck?” he continued, holding up the letter to dearest matthew. “This is amazing.”
Adamski and Berger met as MFA students at the New School, and founded the society as a means of making poetry inviting and accessible. They started with the Poetry Brothel, a series of events that combines elements of theater and performance, staged in a mock bordello where each poet assumes a character and presents intimate readings for cash.
“We’re literally rebranding poetry,” said Berger as she braided her long red hair. “Poetry has this bad rap. You imagine a super old dude in a wingback chair smoking a cigar. Love that dude, but some people find that dude completely out of touch. Or they imagine a young kid smoking too many cigarettes and starving.”
Adamski, who keeps his long dark hair in a bun and a toothpick casually in his mouth, built the booth at a friend’s barn upstate. Crafted from reclaimed wood, the booth isn’t much larger than a closet, and is outfitted with a vintage Smith Corona typewriter, a stool and a scroll of blank paper, and smells like the hay Adamski and Berger used to cushion the piece during transport. The booth has a view of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Jersey City. The Staten Island Ferry frequently passes by.
The 2010 introduction of “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a global project by British artist Luke Jerram that introduced 60 working pianos throughout the city’s public spaces, acted as inspiration. Once Adamski and Berger launch their project in full—they’re applying for grants through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council while looking for corporate sponsors to fund production, and hope to partner with the Department of Parks and Recreation—they plan to collect the scrolls as a record of the city’s subconscious. Eventually, they’d like to take the booths on the road.
“Somebody might not think to sit down in their own home and write a poem,” Adamski said. “Their kids are running around and need to be fed, or their computer is over there and their TV is over there and their Xbox is over there and their phone is over there, but if you’re on your lunch break and you’ve got 20 minutes to kill and you see this thing, and there’s something written there and it’s interesting, you start pecking it out. It’s supposed to be an inviting place.”