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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 14:20:19 -0800 (PST)
From: "Jeff Ubois"
Dead medium: Typewriters, reactionary use of antiquated
Source(s): San Jose Mercury News article,

(((tomj: A view of mechanical typewriters from a nostalgic users point of view.)))

Typing Explosion: key of spontaneity Trio co-authors original poems at maximum speed BY CYNTHIA ROSE Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- Talking typewriters with the three-woman Typing Explosion is like discussing cars with motor heads.

Brands and models are spoken about in loving whispers: the 1948 Remington Rand! The midnight-blue Royal Deluxe! The contour, finish and touch of every species is dissected, hailed for its singular qualities and its fascinations.

``Let's get sentimental,'' says Sarah Ocampo, founder of the writers' group that creates poetry on the spot, in public. ``The writing world lost poetry when it switched over to digital tools! Remember the delicious smell of warm typewriter ribbon? That thrill when you sank your fingers into an old card catalog?''

Sitting beside her, Sierra Nelson gives a sigh. ``As a child, I really loved to play on the typewriter. My mom's a lawyer and her Olivetti filled me with awe.''

New mother Rachel Kessler rocks her tiny daughter, Ruby. ``I think we each have our own typewriter fetish. There were years and years when I could only write on my old Underwood.''

Favorite machines

Pet machines are slowly revealed: an IBM Selectric equipped with an early ``golf ball,'' a white Brother Opus, a Hermes 3000 portable. Such equipment, with its hums and clicks and personality, forms an essential part of the Typing Explosion's mission.

In operation, their metier sounds hilarious: Rapidly clicking keys are punctuated by burping horns, a constant chiming of bells and the periodic shriek of whistles. But their whole aim, says Ocampo, is to generate an assembly line of sound, one whose secret center is the actual production of serious writing.

They do so surrounded by ink pads, antique paper holders and a randomly filled jar of pencils -- dressed in secretarial gear with cups of coffee next to each of them. Working together, they offer the viewer ``personal'' poems for the price of $1.

The process of composition is staged as a performance, beginning when a ``client'' chooses the title for his or her elegy. Titles may be plucked from a vintage, four-drawer card catalog, or written out on one of the blank cards the Explosion provides.

A client must then walk from typist to typist as the poem evolves, verse by verse, among them. But Explosion members do not speak as they sit creating. Instead, they signal finished stanzas with their bells and whistles. As each writer completes a verse, she plucks the poem from her typewriter, hands it off and takes up another. When a piece is finished, the trio sounds three bicycle horns.

Every poem is then signed and dated, rubber-stamped ``ORIGINAL,'' and presented to the waiting customer.

Ocampo chose to bill the group's debut appearances as performance art, carefully omitting any mentions whatsoever of poetry. ``As my boyfriend says, `The worst three things a woman can admit to are being a mime, a model or a poet.' So I resorted to a little bit of trickery.'' It was by carefully rehearsing their marriage of noise and logistics that they soon evolved what Kessler calls ``our typing language.''

Although they choose the titles of poems, the purchasers play a minimal role. They must remain obedient to those ``rules'' projected onto the wall: ``Typists Reserve the Right to Begin and End Each Poem.'' ``No Biting,'' ``No Spitting,'' ``No Horseplay'' and ``Do Not Touch the Typist.'' Other prohibitions include standing less than a foot from the typists' action or offering any comments or suggestions.

Every 35 minutes, Kessler sounds a silver whistle. Then, the wall projection proclaims ``UNION BREAK.'' The typists rise, and proceed to depart from the scene -- sipping the coffee each pours into her delicate demitasse.

All these little strategies, says Ocampo, have their targets. ``We want our audience to help create the whole event. So, they have to stand in line and figure out the poems' titles. We don't talk to them, so they have to start talking together. One will start explaining how things work to someone else. Or a bunch of people will confer over a title.''

``Very quickly we become authority figures,'' says Kessler. ``People are respectful; it's like they're getting their fortunes told.'' But co-authoring 50 poems at maximum speed takes a definite toll. ``That's why it's easy to maintain the poker faces,'' she adds. ``By the end of the evening, we're wrung-out from concentrating.''

More than 300 titles for potential poems are in their file, typed on index cards the waiting clients may peruse. Selections include ``You Were Never My Favorite,'' ``The Shiny Pink Blanket,'' ``Three People Kissing'' and ``Why Children Eat Dirt.'' There are also more fanciful titles -- ``As We Are Not in Love, Let Us Go Out and Look at the Stars.'' Every poem the typists write, however, is original. For once a title has been used, it is then retired for good.

So far, the Explosion has produced around 500 poems and performed at First Thursdays, ArtsEdge, poetry festivals, private parties and a wedding. The trio has written poems for titles in French, Spanish and Swahili. ``We've even gotten formulas and equations as titles,'' says Ocampo.

Two publishers have proposed collating the collected works. But after Kessler heard a radio piece about online self-publishing, the group decided it may self-publish.

`Dear Dianes'

For this endeavor, they would make another transformation: to become staffers at the ``Dear Diane Press.'' The title is taken, says Ocampo, from their ``inter-office memos.''

``Dear Dianes,'' she laughs, ``are all the messages we type to each other. We send them back and forth while we're sitting there -- we're always typing.'' She shoots a glance at Kessler, who tries to repress a grin.

The ``memos'' are often comments about the crowd: a cute boy who's waiting in line or a potentially difficult customer. The typists all use ``Dear Diane,'' so every memo remains anonymous.

By contrast, the Typing Explosion has become a local sensation, having had to turn away bookings during the Christmas season.

``But we're tired of all those holiday metaphors,'' Kessler confesses. ``Now we're reaching the heart of winter -- we can expect the existential crowd!''

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