typewriters and poetry

I’m pleased to announce that I have a poem on display in my hometown. The Vestal Museum has just opened a new exhibit entitled Empty the Inkpots: The History of American Typewriters. They are displaying vintage typewriters and have compiled a binder with their research on the various manufacturers. In collaboration with the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Museum is also displaying poems by area poets who have attended BPP workshops. We poets were invited to submit and I was fortunate to have one of my poems selected.

My poem with two vintage typewriters and the research binder
An Oliver company typewriter

One of the fun things about the poems on display is that they are written in a monospaced typewriter-style font. Because most of us are used to reading text in variable-width fonts these days, the look of the poems on the page is quite distinctive.

My poem, bio, and inspiration statement on display

Because it is very hard to read from the photo, here is the text, although not in the special font:

SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus

We are only beginning this novel,
the first scenes in China,
then South Korea, Iran, Italy.

In the United States, chapters are written
for the hardest hit states—
Washington, California, New York.

No cases in West Virginia—
turn the page—
it’s there, too.

Chilling numbers give way to vignettes—
the family in Jersey that lost four members
with two more in critical condition,

the NBC audio tech silenced forever,
the loss of the doctor who tried to warn the Chinese government,
the bus driver in Brooklyn dead in March.

The plot twists.
The newest regions in lockdown.
Italian coffins in rows, waiting

for cremation and burial without funerals.
Speculation on treatments and vaccines,
though none are proven.

Fines levied for being outdoors.
Postponed elections.
Shuttered courts.

How many tested.
How many infected.
How many dead.

We spend hours reading voraciously,
awaiting the next
installment in the serial.

The novel is long—
and we may still be near the beginning.
How many of us will see the final pages?

The suspense is killing us.

*

Joanne Corey, though she grew up in New England, has called Vestal home since 1988. A stalwart of The Binghamton Poetry Project since 2014, she last attended the fall 2020 workshop and also has participated locally with the Grapevine Group, the Broome County Arts Council, and Sappho’s Circle. She invites you to visit her eclectic blog at topofjcsmind.wordpress.com.

Inspiration: Like many poets, I write to try to process current events. I drafted this in March 2020 as the pandemic was beginning and workshopped it with my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group. It also became an exercise in the use of extended metaphor.
*****

I wish I could share more of the poems here, but I only have permission for my own work. I hope that local folks will be able to see the exhibit in person. It is currently scheduled to be on display through May 31st. The link in the first paragraph will give times that the Museum is open and information on any special events.

While you are there, make sure to take part in the community poetry exercise. We are creating an exquisite corpse poem. Each person is invited to compose a sentence with adjective+noun+verb+adjective+noun without looking at the prior line. Bonus: You get to type it on a manual typewriter! Although I learned to type on a manual, it had been a long time since I had used one. Daughter T was with me and I had to do a bit of coaching. Physical carriage return was not something that she had ever experienced.

Smith-Corona

While re-organizing the basement, B ran across the Smith-Corona manual typewriter he had used in college and brought it upstairs to show to daughter T.

There was still a sheet of corrasable bond paper in it.

The ribbon, which featured both black and red bands, was a bit dried out after 30-odd years of storage, but he was able to advance it enough to find a functional stretch of it.

We proceeded to show T the features. How to set the single, double, or triple space. The unmarked shift lock. That you used a lower case l for the numeral one. How to release the margin if you couldn’t hyphenate the word at the end of the line and needed a bit more space. The “ding” that signaled it was time to return the carriage – and that had us humming Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter.” How easy it was to do superscripts and subscripts, in case you were typing a paper with chemical formulas or footnotes. How to set and release the tabs. How you had to be careful not to type too fast or the type hammers would jamb into each other. How much force you needed to type and how it was helpful to have strong fingers so that some of the letters were not lighter than others.

T, who loves plants and elegant simplicity, was enamored and tried it out, typing stream-of-consciousness style, enjoying the physicality of using a mechanical device.

Although she is a child of the digital age, she has the soul of someone from an earlier era, when the rhythms of the natural world and of simple machines like levers were the most satisfying.

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