Street typing begins at Xavier University

Humanities professors Drs. Polt and Williams bring typewriters to Alter

By Hunter Ellis | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Richard Polt

One Friday afternoon in September, Dr. Richard Polt of the philosophy department and Dr. Tyrone Williams of the English department positioned themselves outside Alter Hall. With two vintage typewriters and signs that read “Free Thoughts” and “Free Poems,” the two professors simply waited. 

Shortly after they set up, students passing by became intrigued and proceeded to ask what was happening. They discovered that all they had to do was provide Polt and Williams a topic and the professors would begin writing thoughts and poems on their typewriters.  The resulting “Thoughts and Poems,’’ as they were called, were given to each student to keep.

This occasion is better known as street typing, a form of improvisational writing that Polt and Williams have brought to Xavier’s campus.

Street typing stems from Polt’s affinity for typewriting as an art form. Throughout the last 25 years, Polt has been collecting typewriters. To date he has amassed a collection of approximately 300 typewriters.

In his book, The Typewriter Revolution, Polt explains that street typing is more difficult than many other forms of creative expression. An artist is no longer writing at their own pace in a quiet place, but rather must “take the machine into the world and offer your writing talents to the public.”

What makes street typing a unique experience is the use of typewriters.

“I think one of the reasons using a typewriter has become so popular is because it’s so retro,” Williams said. “A lot of students have never even seen a typewriter.”

Polt believes that students are curious about how typewriters work because they grew up in the digital age.  For example, students might not know that there are no backspace keys on a typewriter, so changing your mind involves crossing out the mistake and starting over.

“People who are doing this street typing, they don’t do that…the spirit is we’re just going to move forward,” Polt said. “You just go with (the mistakes) and turn it into something.”

Senior English and PR major Anna Gayford is one of the students who participated in a street typing session. She found the tangibility of a finished product meaningful.

 “I found having a hard copy of what Dr. Polt and Dr. Williams had to say in relation to the word I gave them helped to give me a way to reflect, and I still continue to reflect on their words,” Gayford said.

Williams, who has had a love for poetry since his teenage years, said that the activity of street typing is enjoyable but also challenging because of the spontaneous nature of the writing.

Street typing is a relatively new art form, but that hasn’t stopped it from leaving a lasting effect on people. Williams shared one instance of a poem he wrote during a Labor Day street typing event in Bloomington, Indiana. A crying woman approached Williams and asked him to write a poem celebrating the end of her relationship. She left with a smile.

Polt and Williams expressed a desire to hold street typing event at Xavier again, though it most likely won’t be until next semester.

Usually, the sessions take on a pop-up form, but Polt said there is a possibility of announcing the next date beforehand because of popular demand.