When you strip away expectations, rampant consumerism, obligations, forced monotonous duty, and the arms race for resources (red roses for only $50!), Valentine’s Day becomes something truly beautiful. The free exchange of gifting, buying, receiving, giving–all in the name of expressive love–
…What could ever go wrong?
A few months ago, Diane Matyas invited me to perform at the Staten Island Museum’s Second Saturday event, Betty’s Typewriter Love Fest. A Staten Island native, Betty Bressi focused on striking colors, minimalistic type, and repetition (among other mediums) to create art. The Typewriter Love Fest was a retrospective tribute to not only the artist herself, but to Valentine’s Day and typewriters, as well.
When Diane reached out to me, I had already quietly decided to discontinue the “Free Poetry” aspect of Typewriter Poetry after several existential breakdowns. Though I was no longer typing “Free Poetry,” I fell in love with Bressi’s work and was inspired to commit to performing at the Staten Island Museum event.
Come Valentine’s Day, I made the trek from Philly to Manhattan early in the morning. I discovered that at the southern-most point of the City, there’s a free ferry you can catch which takes you straight to Staten Island every thirty minutes.
It’s also orange. And it’s giant.
I’m extremely grateful to say I’ve crossed one more item off my bucket list: perform Typewriter Poetry inside a museum. It brings Typewriter Poetry to a complete circle. Now, I am able to put my typewriter to rest with pride and move on to the next adventure.
Inspired by the Staten Island Museum’s varied collection of walled insects, island history, paintings, sculptures, graphic design, and Bressi’s bold creations, I played around with my typewriter. Kathryn Carse of the Staten Island Advance published a wonderful article focusing on Typewriter Poetry. It’s filled with photography, quotes, and video of the event:
The setting seemed made for Billimarie Robinson. A traveling poet with a pink 1950s Royal typewriter, she need only use her first name. She casually converses, listens, laughs, and writes a poem which she types on onion skin paper. Then zzzzzipppp she rips it out of the typewriter, creases it and carefully tears away the extra paper.
“I love handwriting, but there’s something about the instrumentation of the typewriter … every letter matters, and there’s something beautiful about ink to paper, immediacy, poetry,” she says.
She hands over the finished product which inevitably causes a smile as each person reads and finds a little bit of themselves in a poem.
“It’s just an opportunity for a lighthearted connection between strangers,” says Billimarie.
I am ridiculously humbled to see it from Kathryn’s point of view. I urge you to read the rest of her incredible article here, if you’re curious. All photos in this entry–unless otherwise mentioned–were taken by Kathryn Carse for the Staten Island Advance.
My favorite part of the event was when the insightful and talented artist Florence Barry sketched me while I was unaware. She was kind enough to show me her journal, afterwards. It is a thick and rugged notebook filled to the margins with sketches of all kinds of people, animals, places. She doesn’t have an online presence–“I’m a bit of a luddite,” she claimed in person–but I did get her business card and later discovered this amazing photograph:
It was my first time visiting Staten Island. The community surrounding the museum is palpable with artistic cultural intent. Though I wasn’t a “Staten Islander,” everyone was friendly and welcoming. I was honored to be part of the town for even just a day.
Flo (Florence Barry)
in and over we flow numerous canvas letters and marks a ride or a lesson --billimarie february 14th 2015
first is the blank slate time is an essence we refuse to solidify, letters and shapes, pica to inch. we blossom into sounds of an ethereal nature: with age we collect recollect folding over --billimarie
A Newly-Wed Couple
sparrow p@rr0t being of numbers numerical operations, as they say he saw she and the colors just begged to become becoming becoming, and going their way we all have the habit of wishing we could stay --billimarie february 14th 2015
outside, it's cold. everything wrapped in dirty white snow. habor waves look cinematic when viewed through an iPhone lens-- these things being things small reminders of what remain. --billimarie february 14th 2015
there. (the eye has it, doesn't it?) something in the notion we capture bitsbits&bits how lovely, you, are pieces of poetry straight shooter to the ends of the heart --billimarie february 14th 2015
A huge thanks to everyone who made every single event I ever typed at possible.
Thank you to everyone who carries bytes of my soul with them (re: a free poem) though I am probably only 1/98th human now because of it. On the plus side: I became 97/98th wolf.
Thanks to the guy who asked me to sign a poem so he could sell it when I got famous, because haha fuck you.
I’m sorry to the events I flaked on.
Thank you to everyone who ever helped me along what now seems to be a strange, pointless journey of “Free Poetry” (the hilarious ironies of life!).
Thank you to my family, especially to my brother who I once overheard proudly telling a stranger that I “go around typing free poetry for people,” and especially my parents who kept hinting that this endeavor might be a huge waste of time but gave me room enough to find that out on my own.
To a secret admirer this Valentine’s Day: thank you for your present, [but more than that] your presence: “and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant”
Thank you to Ridge and Sandra, the two women who took one look at my Free Poetry setup then looked me dead in the eye and said, “you’re better than this.” No one had ever told me that, before. I cried. They hugged me.
…And they were the last people I ever typed free poems for.