Writing Poetry, Old School

The newest member of Saint Mary's English Department, award-winning poet Matthew Zapruder, finds his inspiration on paper, not on a screen. Zapruder collects old typewriters, and finds them not only beautiful, but helpful to the creative process. His fascination for old Royals and IBM Selectrics is already rubbing off on his students, several of whom are using old typewriters to write new works.Zapruder writes much of his poetry on typewriters, machines he’s been collecting over the last two decades.

Q: What started your interest in typewriters?

A: I was going to UMass Amherst in the 90s and I was seriously writing poems. I found my mother’s old typewriter from high school, which was a Royal Quiet Deluxe. So I started collecting them and, at the time, in the 90s, people weren’t really collecting them that much. So I would buy them on eBay pretty cheap, for ten bucks.

Q: You have a love for the language and a typewriter facilitates that, doesn’t it?

A: Yes. I wrote a lot of my first book of poems on my mom’s manual typewriter. It really slowed me down and it helped me with the creative process. I think it makes it a more physical thing, your relationship to words and sentences and lines and line-breaks and things like that.

Q: Then there’s the sex appeal—the machine itself as an art form. Do you agree?

A: I find them beautiful. They’re very elegantly designed. There’s no extra stuff on them. They’re very functional and the material, especially these older typewriters from the 30s or 40s, have this metal that’s been treated in a way that just has this cool matt look.

Q: Have you found that they’ve increased much in value?

A: Yes. A typewriter that I would have bought 15 or 20 years ago for $15 is now worth 10 or 20 times that much. A typewriter like this (the Royal) is worth a few hundred dollars, at least, on eBay.

Q: Isn’t it hard to find ribbons and such?

A: The old typewriters use the same kinds of ribbons and they’re not hard to find. There are a few places online that sell them and there are typewriter shops like the one on University Avenue in Berkeley. They also repair and clean old typewriters.

Q: How do people react when they get a hand-typed letter?

A: They like it. It takes more time and there’s kind of a ritual to sitting down and writing with a typewriter. I go slower and I think about what I’m going to write and, also, I can’t erase it so I have to think through the sentence before I write it.

Q: I would love a hand-typed letter from you.

A: Well, I’ll send you one. I sit down for a few hours, not as often as I like, but every once in a while. That’s my correspondence day and for a few hours I’ll write notes on the typewriter. The computer is shut off, I’m not distracted; I’m not emailing; I’m not checking Facebook or whatever; all that stuff is turned off.