Erin Williams/STL Public Radio
A typewriter for the "What The Hell Is St. Louis Thinking?" project sits in the city's Central West End neighborhood. Poet Henry Goldkamp wants passers-by to stop and share their thoughts — without the luxury of a "delete" key.
A typewriter for the "What The Hell Is St. Louis Thinking?" project sits in the city's Central West End neighborhood. Poet Henry Goldkamp wants passers-by to stop and share their thoughts — without the luxury of a "delete" key. Erin Williams/STL Public Radio
Typically, 21st century writers fall into two technical categories: Mac or PC. But poet Henry Goldkamp would much rather use a typewriter. He's the sole owner of a mobile poetry business, and for the past three years, he's spent his weekends traveling St. Louis, banging out short poems, on the spot, for anyone who stops by his table.
"People can seem very distant and closed off here. A lot of people – you think – keep to themselves, but at least through this medium, people tell me things that I can't even believe," Goldkamp says. "They've got their hearts on their sleeve, and that's a great thing. It's an emotional town."
The tall, bearded 25-year-old, who works construction by day, says he's found that some moments deserve more than a five-minute interaction. So he's installed nearly 40 typewriters and paper at stores, bars, parks — even in people's homes — all around St. Louis. Passers-by are encouraged to stop and type an answer to the question, "What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking?"
Erin Williams/St. Louis Public Radio
Goldkamp has been writing on-the-spot poetry for passersby for three years. He got the idea from performers in New Orleans' French Quarter while a student at Tulane University.
Goldkamp has been writing on-the-spot poetry for passersby for three years. He got the idea from performers in New Orleans' French Quarter while a student at Tulane University. Erin Williams/St. Louis Public Radio
A Critique Of Technology?
Goldkamp says he hopes people will stop and type out how they feel about the city and its effect on their lives. "This is about as honest a definition of the city as you can get," he says. "What better defines a city than the thoughts of the inhabitants themselves?"
Over in the calm and kitschy Central West End neighborhood, Eric Murphy is a little baffled by the concept of typing out his feelings. "I think it's a parody on technology. I'm in my early 30s — I have no idea how to use a typewriter," he says.
The process was perhaps better understood over at Vintage Vinyl, a record store where Nick Goldschmidt, 17, decided to type a simple, poignant sentence in memory of local music icon Bob Reuter, who was also his mentor.
"It's not as personal as writing it down with a pencil and paper," he says. "But it kind of makes you work for it, because you have to punch in the freaking keys because, you know, it's hard. Definitely more personal than, you know, a computer."
And Julie Linder, who stood at a typewriter in front of Crown Candy Kitchen, a restaurant in the Old North Neighborhood, says the project gave her a sense of interconnectedness. "It feels more human. It was interesting talking to the person next to me and trying to figure out how to work the typewriter," she says. "We're sharing this moment and in some way we feel like we're kind of making a difference."
Engaging The Typist
Liesel Fenner, the public art manager at Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., says the inability to delete on the typewriter gives the writer's final product a deeper meaning than the more random iterations computers and mobile phones encourage.
"Successful public art engages the viewer, and whether that's hands-on participation, or the viewer coming away with a tangible change in how they experienced that space, that place ... [has] a really lasting impact [on the viewer] for years to come," Fenner says.
Goldkamp plans to leave the typewriters in place through September. He'll be tweeting highlights along the way and collecting and compiling the notes — all in the hope of publishing the most interesting things that St. Louis residents have to say.