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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)
Features'60s Dream Lives On
Suit Filed Against George W. Bush
"Friends in High Places"
Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad
Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge
Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington
How to Run for City Council
Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?
Monoculture and Mad Cows
Itching to Ride Light Rail
Is Work Killing You?
Escaping the Globalized Gym
Seattle's Clattering Poets
A Puppetista Manifesto
Living Outside Empire
Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge
Social Transformation Explained? Technogod
Spokane Free-speech Battle
Seattle’s Clattering Poets
The Typing Explosion invents a new kind of performance art
by Sean Carman
You come upon three young women in simple cotton dresses, black stockings and page-boy haircuts straight out of a 1950’s movie. They are seated behind a line of Smith-Corona electric typewriters. Projected above them are a list of rules and a strict code of conduct. The rules direct you to write a poem title on a slip of paper (you may compose your own or select from a card catalog of titles) and hand it to the first typist, along with a dollar bill. From there the Typing Explosion, as Sarahpaul Ocampo, Sierra Nelson and Rachel Kessler call themselves, compose your poem in an unusual brand of performance art that involves its audience in the collective generation of poetry.
Ocampo explains that the Typing Explosion is not, strictly speaking, a performance troupe. “People have to ask, ‘What is that?’” she explains, “and they have to figure it out.” The aim, she says, is to demonstrate that the creation of poetry can be a collective enterprise, that it can be quotidian in an unlikely assembly-line way, and that it need not be the exclusive province of “one guy in his garret,” as Ocampo puts it. “The idea,” she says, “is that producing poetry can be fun, it can be a spectacle.” Ocampo also lists her childhood fear of strict librarians as a source of inspiration.
The Typing Explosion is fun to watch, but the troop also has something to say. By turning the idea of secretarial subservience on its head, for example, its performance challenges conventional ideas about workplace authority. “We can destroy your document if you misbehave,” Ocampo warns. Sierra Nelson explains that the secretary-poets’ attire, their interactions with audience members, and their status as artists all get the audience thinking about power, politics and art. There is no single political message, Nelson says, and Nelson and Ocampo agree that while their performance challenges certain conventional political ideas, their main goal is to get the audience thinking radically about poetry.
In this way the Typing Explosion takes a tack opposite that of conventional political art. Whereas performers typically employ art to make a political claim, the Typing Explosion constructs a politically-charged situation to make a claim about art. In the world of the Typing Explosion everything is topsy-turvy, even the message expressed by its form of political theater. After seeing the Typing Explosion, you will never think about poetry readings in quite the same way.
Like all good secretaries, the Typing Explosion can be a little hard to find. At this writing they were setting up an appearance at a benefit art auction in Seattle on March 17, and planned to appear March 23 and 24 at the Ground Swell Cafe in Portland. They are planning some of their future performances as “unplugged” events at which they will clatter away on ancient manual typewriters. You can also see them perform “Post Cards,” their play for voices based on their impromptu poetry compositions, May 10 through 13 at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. To attend their other upcoming Seattle appearances, keep a close eye on the arts listings in Seattle’s entertainment weeklies, and remember to bring plenty of spare dollar bills and winning poem titles.