A few years ago, Tyler Knott Gregson stumbled upon a typewriter that changed his life. Using a loose page from a used book, he quickly typed out a poem—the first in what would be known as the Typewriter Series. Using found paper or a blackout method, Gregson has written over a thousand poems that were then scanned and uploaded to his Tumblr—some of which can be found in his recent collection Chasers of the Light. Here, Gregson talks about the intersection of technology and poetry and how he’s helping to bridge the gap.
If Vincent Van Gogh had an Instagram, where would art be today? If Ernest Hemingway had a GoPro as he fished, would The Old Man and the Sea have turned out any differently? What if Emily Dickinson had an iPhone or Jack Kerouac had GPS? The role of technology in art has been a question raised in nearly every medium over the last few decades, but until recently, poetry and modern technology remained on opposite ends of the spectrum. This polarization could explain the slow decline of poetry, the relative obscurity that it has hidden in for the last twenty years, but if I am completely honest, it could also explain its resurgence over the last five.
I have been writing poetry for longer than I haven’t. I started when I was 12 years old as a way to clear out the clutter in my mind, to occupy my hands when I was unable to sit still in class, a way to quiet the noises. Poetry was a way for me to give a voice to the words in me that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else; it allowed me to say things with a freedom that other forms of writing didn’t allow. With the exception of thematic shifts, poetry has been one of the slowest forms of artistic expression to adopt, or at least intermingle with modern technology.
Oddly, it was this exact polarization that has not only helped launch my career, but has helped to act as a defibrillator in a lot of ways to the genre as a whole. A little over 900 days (and poems) ago, I found an extremely old typewriter in a local antique store and typed what became not only the first poem of my typewriter series, but also the first poem in my first book. Until that day, with the exception of a few hand scrawled notes, so much of the poetry that I’d created, and that I’d posted online, was all digital. With an art form that has been fading over the years, and a piece of equipment that most people under 25 wouldn’t even recognize, I think I fell in love with seeing thoughts that had been digital finally analogue again. But it wasn’t until I combined the old with the new that things really transformed.
With the first poem typed, I decided that I wanted to share that feeling with the friends and family that had been following me online, keeping track of my digital footprints. Within a few weeks, posting new digital scans of analogue art each day, little scraps of found paper with poetry typed from a 60 or 70-year-old typewriter, the response was surprising and in a way, hopeful. Using Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, technologies that have never really blended with poetry before, people all over the world were starting to see new, contemporary poetry for the first time in quite some time. This is not to say I started anything, not to say that I am the cause of anything, but that I hopefully played a small role in poetry spreading into a wider and often younger audience than it had in years. Ironically, some of the first comments and email I received from people finding it was assumptions that the author must have been dead and gone for at least half a century.
So where are we now? What role does technology play in a medium like poetry? I don’t think we know yet. I have been shocked and surprised and frankly, thrilled, to see people all over the planet taking up their own found typewriters to write their own poetry. I have seen 12-year-olds and I have seen retirees writing again, trying their hand at a form of expression that many gave up for dead. Technology, social media, and the ever-shrinking world thanks to the Internet, has created a climate of makers, of writers and artists and once again, poets, that are able to share and receive criticism and feedback instantly. The thought of Whitman, Neruda, Cummings, or even Shakespeare having this kind of capability is staggering, and like the opening question, truly makes you wonder where things would be today, if technology existed like this all those yesterdays ago.
For me, I think the more people create, the better we’ll be. So much energy today gets thrown into destruction, it’s been absolutely inspiring to see creation come rushing back to the surface.
Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author, professional photographer, and artist who lives in the mountains of Helena, Montana. When he is not writing, he operates his photography company,Treehouse Photography, with his talented partner, Sarah Linden.