Every day, Tyler Knott Gregson takes a few minutes at his antique typewriter to “spill” out a new poem on a scrap of paper.
Monopoly money, an illustration of a ship and an old map ripped from a book are just a few examples of what he writes his poems on.
He doesn’t rewrite or edit his poems, other than to occasionally type over a misspelled word — and he hasn’t missed a day since he started this “Typewriter Series” on March 28, he says.
He keeps the typewriter, a Remington Rand No. 17, on a standing desk and stands “Hemingway-style” when he writes the poems, which usually takes no more than seven minutes.
Once typed, Gregson scans the poems into his computer and posts them to his Tumblr website, tylerknott.com, which he says has more than 105,000 followers.
This holiday season, after numerous requests from fans, he decided to sell a few prints of his poetry — a single print for $20 or two for $30.
“Literally, I thought I was going to get maybe 20 people that would order,” he said on a recent sunny morning while sitting in the living room of his century-old house in Helena. “I just can’t keep up, I think I’ve sold over $10,000 worth of prints and they’ve gone to like 30 countries.”
He’s become a regular at Costco, where he orders his prints, and he’s had to buy a stamp printer and fine-tune his shipping process just to keep up with demand.
“The most frustrating thing is I’ll submit an order that’s like $100 worth of prints and it took me like an hour to get it set up,” he says. “And then I get home and there’s like 13 more. And it’s great, but then you have to start that whole process over.”
Once summer rolls around, Gregson says he’s not sure how he’ll have enough time to mail his poetry all over the world and keep up with his job as a professional photographer.
He co-owns Treehouse Photography with his partner Sarah Hiel Sund — they’re already booked to shoot weddings nearly every day next summer, he says.
Gregson says he loves his photography job too much to give it up and focus only on selling his poetry, and being with so many people on the happiest day of their lives — their wedding day — actually fuels a lot of his writing.
His work, much of which focuses on love, hope and optimism, has obviously struck a chord with quite a few people. Based on some emails readers have sent him, Gregon’s writing may have even prevented some from committing suicide.
“I have a whole bunch of originals I can show you,” he says, bouncing out of his swiveling office chair and running upstairs to grab samples of his work.
His cozy living room is decorated with potted bamboo plants and statues of Buddha large and small. Several of Gregson’s art projects — poems painted on old scraps of barn wood — hang on the walls.
“So basically what I do is,” he says, his feet pattering back down the stairs moments later. “I find books that are falling apart and breaking and I’ll just take pages I like out of those books … that’s what I put into the typewriter.”
He sets a folder overflowing with dozens of poems — each on a unique scrap of paper — down on the coffee table in the living room.
“I can’t highlight a sentence and move it,” he says. “I like that I can’t erase a whole paragraph if I think it sucks. I like that it’s, it’s what was inside. It’s unfiltered. It’s just straight from brain to paper.”
One of his most popular poems, “Typewriter Series #61,” reads “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
Gregson says his online following started nearly four years ago, when he challenged himself to write a haiku — a traditional three-line Japanese poem — every day.
He has yet to miss a day in that series, too, which he calls “Daily Haiku on Love” because “I don’t know, I think love is the dominant force in the universe,” he says.
To some people his poems might seem cliché or cheesy, but his sincerity and enthusiasm can fill a room, making it difficult not to get swept up in his optimistic view of the world.
“I have this weird view on anything artistic, same with photography,” he says. “I don’t ever want to be taught how to do something artistic, no matter what it is, because I’m always worried that if I’m taught how to do it, I’ll do it like the person that taught me. Even if that’s bad, I would rather be a bad writer writing like myself than a great one that sounds like someone else.”
‘Kind of a weird kid’
Gregson started writing when he was about 12 or 13 years old — out of necessity more than anything.
Although he’s never been officially diagnosed, Gregson says several mental health professionals have told him he probably has Asperger’s syndrome.
“I was kind of a weird kid. I got in trouble a lot at school,” he says. “I would never have a notebook or a pencil or a paper, I would just borrow a sheet of paper and I would have to write. It would never be related to the class — that was my way of getting through the day.”
He doesn’t like crowds, always has to know where the exits are and can’t sit still.
Regardless, he graduated from the University of Montana with a triple major in psychology, sociology and criminology — even though in his last three years as a student he only attended classes to turn in papers and take tests, he says.
Never once, though, did he take a writing class or study poetry.
Around the same time that he started writing as a child, Gregson says his father found a book called “The Teachings of Buddha” in a hotel room drawer and gave it to him.
“Like I said, I was kind of a weird kid,” Gregson says. “I read it cover to cover and then it started there. I just fell in love with it. I was raised Presbyterian, but nothing had ever made sense like Buddhism made sense.
“We have this principle called ‘the cup is already broken,’ and this sounds silly, but it’s like if you have a brand new cup and the first (time) you look at it you imagine it into a million pieces,” he explains. “Every minute that you have between now and the day that it’s broken is a gift — rather than being heartbroken when that thing does finally go, you’re enjoying every day with it.
“Hemingway said once that ‘there’s nothing to writing, you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ I guess there’s two ways you can look at (that),” he says.
Do you approach life with hope, or despair?
“It’s too easy to pick out the flaws, and it’s too easy to find all the things that are miserable,” he says. “I just feel like there’s way too much of that already.”
Instead he focuses his writing on “the little things, the tiny little miracles.”
Effects on people
“The effect I never foresaw, I guess, was how many people I get emails from saying it helps them,” he says. “That blew my mind.”
And he gets plenty of emails — sometimes as many as 100 a day, and the daily notifications through his website often number in the thousands.
“I would say 97 percent of the emails people send are just ‘Oh, I love your stuff. You’re really talented,’” he says. “And it’s not that I don’t care about those but — ‘great,’ you know what I mean?”
It’s the other 3 percent of the emails he receives that are truly overwhelming.
Gregson recalls one email from a woman that said, “I just wanted to let you know, six months ago to the day I was planning on killing myself. I went home and I was going to kill myself and I emailed you … you wrote back and it was a real email and you really responded. I just wanted to let you know that was six months ago and I’m still alive today, so thank you.”
“Those are the people that it breaks my heart and it warms my heart that I’ve heard back from them,” he says. “That’s what means the most to me, the fact that they’re selling — that feels silly to me compared to the other stuff.”
He says he’s no authority on counseling people, but he replies to emails as best as he can and has recently starting working with To Write Love on Her Arms and People of the Second Chance, two organizations that help people deal with self-harm and suicide.
Some of the attention he and his poetry have garnered is overwhelming in a completely different way.
One fan from the Philippines has a Twitter account with thousands of tweets addressed to him as if they were having a conversation, even though he has never responded to her, Gregson says.
“And she’s like sent me direct messages saying things like, ‘I’ve found where your house is. Trust me, before I die I will be at your house’ and stuff like that,” he says.
He recalls other fans who have sent him messages saying things like, “You’re my soul mate — we have to spend the rest of our lives together. I’ll prove it to you. Your house won’t be hard to find. How many Gregsons can there be in Montana?”
“It’s overwhelming, dude,” he says, standing near one of his recently completed art projects — a board painted with the Superman crest and words from one of his poems:
“I would imagine there are days when Superman wakes up, glances at his cape, and wonders when someone will come to save him.”
This Superman of poetry may glance at his proverbial cape from time to time, but he has no intention of quitting the “Typewriter Series” or “Daily Haiku on Love” any time soon.
“Writing is something that I’ll always have to do,” he says. “Always.”