The click-clacking of fingers on typewriter keys could be heard inside Mount Royal University’s main campus hall in Calgary, where a crowd was gathering. The sound had drawn them to a “pop-up poetry” event put on by creative writing faculty and students in November.
Over a couple of hours, passersby stopped at the cluster of typewriters to request a poem on any subject and, five minutes later, walked away with a signed copy of the poem, read aloud to them by the poet. “The feeling is very evocative and it creates a very social atmosphere around learning and interacting around writing,” explains Derek Beaulieu, a poet and English professor at Mount Royal.
It was Dr. Beaulieu who supplied the typewriters – part of a collection amassed over the years from strangers after he put a call out in local newspapers. Students use the manual, portable typewriters a few times a semester as part of his creative writing courses. “Writing is a physical process,” he says. “After typing out a poem, their pinkies start to hurt.”
The machines have caught on with faculty and students in the English department, and Mount Royal hosted its first pop-up poetry at an outdoor pedestrian mall last summer. Micheline Maylor, a creative writing professor at the university and Calgary’s poet laureate for 2016-18, was one of the poets taking commissions at both events.
“One person asked me to write a poem for her very ill daughter,” Dr. Maylor says. “There’s that element of, when someone gives you a very personal topic, to be responsible to that topic and to be able to honour it.”
She adds that the main objective of the event was to connect with the wider community. “It can be the downtown community, the university community or the general public. That’s one of the things we saw for sure – how many different kinds of people are interested in poetry and the process.”
In February, the poets will make another appearance in Ottawa, as part of Universities Canada’s Converge 2017 event in honour of the country’s sesquicentennial.