Barrie Tullett in Typewritter Art: A Modern Anthology, poignantly coveys the euphoria that arose at the advent of the typewriter. It presented a new technology that “allowed writers to write as quickly as they thought” (Kindle Location 57). “To save time is to lengthen life,” an adage the author presents in the first part of the book gets to my first observation while reading this anthology and site at which typewriter poets erred.
Enraptured by the potentialities the typewriter opened up, artists creating typewriter art were moving with such unexamined speed and toward a rhapsodic proliferation that there were immeasurable opportunities missed for sitting down and pulling together critically to what their material processes illuminated about language and literary arts in modern times.
Tullet writes, “The use of the machine as a tool for creative expression seems to have been overlooked historically, perhaps due to the fact that the artists would primarily be stenographers or typists showing their skills in competition with others in the same field” (Location 183). The aforementioned highlights that the decorative, purely ornamental aspects of typewriter art were overly highlighted in the absence of a poetics that rose above the fray—which didn’t arrive until the concrete poets came on the scene and the provided their various and critically valuable manifestos.
Tullet goes on the write about the implications and costs of presenting the conceptual threads of their work and more so process— “Most early artist were likely unaware of the historical context of their piece, leading to a lack of dissemination of critical approval…which meant that the range of work being produced internationally was not fully realized” (ibid). We see, for example, in the case of Stacey, who completed what was called “art-typing” (Location 198) of peacocks and small figures in 1904, she was called “an English stenographer” (ibid) rather than a poet. This distinction is crucial, for there is hegemonic force at play here that nominates “art-typing” out of the realm of poetry.
It is important to realize that in calling Stacey’s work “art-typing” the word art comes first and not typing. In fact, there seemingly was no realization in 1904 that in fact, she was actually starting with the letter or punctuation to form spatial relation and syntax—that is a completely literary, grammatical act. It is important to not let those without the eyes to see (hegemonic, totalizing forces) determine into what genre an experimental artist falls.
On one end, the typewriter artist shoots him/her own self in the foot when they concur with an articulated or coherent observation of their work that calls what they are doing “observational drawings to pattern pieces that are more akin to cross-stitch patterns or samplers” (Location 276) as the author Tullet does regarding Roger Van Braekel’s work. Even if a typewriter artist is doing impressionistic work, she/he are doing work within the realm of spatial syntax & that should equally if not more so highlighted. An example of self-determination within typewriter poem genre is in the Noigandres manifesto; the author quotes from The Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry, “Concrete poetry begins by being aware of the graphic space as a structural agent” (Location 313).
For all the talk in the book about the structure and elegance, limitation and possibility of the typewriter, early typewriter poets suffered from being too swift of hand and not pausing to see how their beloved form of technology helped produced or cue the form of their poems.
Shayna S. Israel
Blog Mission: In the spirit of becoming , to provide iterative thoughts toward a deepened understanding of and experience with the intersection of literary and visual arts.