STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On any given weekend, you can find St. Louis native Henry Goldkamp on the sidewalks of his city typing poems on the spot for people passing by who are willing to share a little bit about themselves. Now, the roaming writer wants to know what else is on the minds of his fellow St. Louis residents. And to do so, Henry Goldkamp has placed almost 40 typewriters across the city, posing the somewhat blunt question: What The Hell Is St Louis Thinking? St. Louis Public Radio's Erin Williams helps him find out.
ERIN WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Typically, 21st century writers fall into two technical categories: Mac or PC. But poet Henry Goldkamp would much rather use a typewriter.
(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER)
WILLIAMS: He's the sole owner of a mobile poetry business. For the past three years, he's spent his weekends going around St. Louis, banging out short poems for anyone who stops by his table.
HENRY GOLDKAMP: People can seem very distant and closed off here. A lot of people - you think - keep to themselves, but at least through this medium, I mean, people tell me things that I can't even believe. They've got their hearts on their sleeve, and that's a great thing. It's an emotional town.
WILLIAMS: Goldkamp is a tall, bearded 25-year-old, whose day job is working construction. He says he's found that some moments deserve more than a five minute interaction. So he came up with the idea from a public project. Goldkamp has 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 out just how they feel about the city and its effects on their lives.
GOLDKAMP: This is about as honest as a definition of the city as you can get. I mean, what better defines a city than the inhabitants themselves?
WILLIAMS: Over in the calm and kitschy Central West End neighborhood, Eric Murphy is a little baffled by the concept of typing out his feelings.
ERIC MURPHY: I don't know. I think it's a parody on technology. I'm in my early thirties - I have no idea how to use a typewriter.
WILLIAMS: The process was better understood over at record store Vintage Vinyl, where 17-year-old Nick Goldschmidt decided to type a simple, poignant sentence in memory of local music icon Bob Reuter, who was also his mentor.
NICK GOLDSCHMIDT: It's not as personal as writing it down with a pencil and paper, but it kind of makes you work for it because you have to punch in the freaking keys because they're so, like, you know, it's hard. Definitely more personal than, you know, a computer.
WILLIAMS: And Julie Linder, who stood at a typewriter in front of the restaurant Crown Candy Kitchen in the Old North Neighborhood, really enjoyed feeling interconnected feelings through the process.
JULIE LINDER: It feels more human - it was interesting talking to the person next to me and trying to figure out how to work the typewriter; and the fact that we're sharing this moment and in some way we feel like we're kind of making a difference.
WILLIAMS: Liesel Fenner is the public art manager at Americans for the Arts in Washington D.C. She says that the typewriter's inability to delete gives the final product deeper meaning than the random iterations that today's technology calls for.
LIESEL FENNER: 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, is a really lasting impact for years to come.
WILLIAMS: Henry Goldkamp will leave the typewriters in place through September, all the while tweeting the highlights and collecting and compiling the notes with hopes of publishing the most interesting things that St. Louis residents have to say. For NPR News, I'm Erin Williams in St. Louis.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS")
JUDY GARLAND: (singing) Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, meet me at the fair. Don't tell me the lights are shining any place but there...
INSKEEP: Typewriters? This is NPR News.