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Staten Islanders Play Key Roles in Human Typewriter

By Nicholas Rizzi | August 10, 2012 8:09am

STATEN ISLAND — A public art project on Staten Island is allowing people to really tap into their inner poet, one well-chosen letter at a time.

The Staten Island Museum in St. George will give people the chance to play a one-letter key among many others in a collaborative poem written by a "human typewriter."

The project on Sunday, called SMASH Type, will allow participants to pick a letter, paint it with ink and smash it into a large sheet of paper laid out in front of the museum to create a group-written poem.

"The dream is to treat it sort of like an orchestra," said SMASH Type's creator, Ben Weber. "Everyone is assigned a specific letter," he said.

The interactive, living poem was first created on Tuesday and conducted by Weber, who is also the educational director for Elastic City, an organization that creates public poetry projects.

"The idea of the event was to take the public and show them the human typewriter," the 27-year-old Brooklyn artist said. "They can create collaborative poems with the stamps one letter at a time."

Around 25 people became a key in Weber's typewriter on Tuesday, most memorably a recently married couple from Manhattan who had boarded the ferry after their nuptuals, and appeared at the museum to smash their initials onto the paper.

Weber said he hopes to get a full 30-character set of human keys for Sunday's event. Depending on the crowd, Weber will either have participants roam free and type whatever they like, or he will offer guidelines on what to type, such as trying a poem using every letter in the alphabet.

One goal he has for Sunday's event is for the one-letter poets to type messages dedicated to the forgotten borough.

Weber originally conceived of the project in his former studio space in Long Island City, where he had the idea to transform the space into a large sheet of paper, then invited friends over to swing sledgehammers with letters on them at his walls.

He saw its potential for teaching children about poetry, and made it kid-friendly by changing the letter stamps from sledgehammers to Tropicana bottles, outfitted with foam and dowels. 

"I thought this idea might be good for a young crowd," Weber said. "I sort of toned it down and decided the Tropicana bottles would be fun."

While people of all ages come by to volunteer as keys, Weber said children especially enjoy becoming a typewriter.

"Kids really seem to get a kick out of it," he said. "I think because it's messy and they get to actually whack this object down into the ground."

Interested keys can head to the front of the Staten Island Museum, 75 Stuyvesant Pl., at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The project will run for two hours and people can register online and find more information at Elastic City's website.