21 Thoughts On Life, Art & Love: An Interview With Tyler Knott Gregson.
“There were and will be dark times, always, but it’s the ache that stirs the words. Without the ache the joy would fall flat. I think the obstacles are what get us to where we need to be. We have to remind our legs that they are strong.” ~ Tyler Knott Gregson
Every 100 years or so, an unusual poet with an otherworldly artistic sensitivity comes along to stir a generation with the exact words our tired hearts need in order to remember our story of aliveness and put our old world in a new light.
His art feels familiar, necessary, a home to the soul, a more breathable air. It fits like gloves and it gives life travelers the voice they might have silenced.
My first encounter with such a poet came a few years ago when my eyes first rested on this poem, that had just popped up on my Facebook feed. From the look of it, typed on what seemed like an old page torn out of an old book by an old soul in surprisingly fresh words, I quickly deduced he must have been the one dead poet I accidentally skipped in college (and how could I have possibly missed him?) whose poetry had just been resurrected and now shared online.
My research proved the opposite: he was alive, young, real, and now, after tirelessly gifting the world with his words, every single day for the past three years, his typewritten fragments of life, love and hope are decorating the pages of what I can only call one of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever held in my hands.
His long-awaited first book, Chasers of the Light, has just been released this week to an expectant international audience of dreamers and doers and it’s already ranking among Amazon’s top best-sellers.
So I sat with Tyler and my catlike curiosity over a virtual cup of tea and poetry and tried to get a peek inside his artist soul.
Will you join us?
Here are 21 questions I’ve always wanted to ask him:
1. How and when did you first fall in love with writing?
As long as I can remember, I’ve been writing. My first poem that ever stumbled out of me, I believe, came when I was 12 years old. I used to write during all of my classes because I couldn’t pay attention to the teachers. I would write and doodle to keep me from going crazy, to keep me from literally sprinting out of the classroom and not coming back.
2. How did The Typewriter come into your life?
I have always loved antique stores because they have always felt like escapes. They feel like a chance for me to disappear into a time that I probably should have been born in. I was in a local antique store here in Helena, Montana called “Golden Girls” and I found this beautiful old Remington Rand Seventeen typewriter sitting with its lid half closed.
I thought there was no way it would still work, so I stuck a piece of old paper from a broken book I was buying into it, and typed what became the very first Typewriter Series Poem. $25 for the typewriter and $2 for the book, and I left the shop happy.
3. Did you write poetry previous to meeting the typewriter? How did this magic encounter affect your poetry and writing overall?
I absolutely did. As I mentioned, I think I was about 12 when I began really writing poetry and I’ve never stopped. I was about three years into my Daily Haiku on Love series where I write a haiku each day, every day, when I found the typewriter. Saying that, the typewriter absolutely changed the way I wrote for the series. I began trying to say more with less, as typing with one finger on a machine that’s 80 years old isn’t the easiest thing to do. I liked the challenge of brevity and the inability to edit.
4. Tell us about your first book, Chasers of the Light. What poems does it include, what is the meaning behind the title, how did it come to be, and where can we get a copy?
Chasers of the Light, is a collection of Typewriter Series poems, blackout poetry, and photography of mine with some prose and poetry captions overlaid. The name comes from a personal life motto and a line in the final poem in the book. A snowball effect of support lead to this book, and Penguin and their imprint Perigee bid for the rights to publish it about a year ago. It has been an amazing whirlwind of an experience and I cannot believe it’s out. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Books-A-Million all will be selling it as well as local bookstores and brick and mortar stores all over the place.
5. Did you, at any point, expect or foresee that your own light-chasing would touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, online and beyond?
Absolutely not. I have always, and will always write for myself. To get things inside me out so they stop cluttering everything up. I never saw any response coming, as the only people who ever read my work initially was family and friends. This response has been so surprising and so flattering and completely unforeseen. I am blown away.
6. There’s a beautiful paradox in your work, the way you combine the nostalgia of the typewritten, pre-computer era with the most recent social media communication tools. Was it difficult at first, to reconcile the two? Would you say this combination — of the digital and the analog — adds more value to your work?
I think the combination certainly adds more value for me. I don’t know what value anything I write holds beyond what it means to me, and I don’t know if I ever will. They were always ways to silence the sounds in my mind, and being able to hold the words, to feel the imprint of the letters on the paper, this added instant worth for me personally. It felt like I could see and smell and touch things that were locked away in my brain and I appreciated it so immensely.
7. What authors have been your greatest literary influencers?
I love to read, so very much, and I think I am inspired by everything from old poetry to current fiction and even young adult fiction, as obvious as that probably sounds. I love Whitman, Neruda, Cummings, Eliot and so many other poets. I love Richard Brautigan and Jim Harrison and Hemingway. I don’t think I have ever tried to write like any of them because that’s a fruitless endeavor. It simply cannot be done, so I never tried.
8. Do you write or did you at any point write anything else besides poetry?
I do. I’m actually working on a screenplay, I have written a few children’s books that I am trying to get published, and I have a bunch of novella ideas spilling around my noggin. I just love to write, I love the way words come together.
9. What is your writing routine? How do you summon the muse every single day? Does consistency play an important role in your work?
I honestly don’t have a routine. The vast majority of the time, a single line or phrase starts repeating itself in my mind and I have to get it out. Once it’s out and down on paper or in a notepad on my computer or something, the rest of the poem fills in above and below it. It all just sort of pours out and I always feel guilty saying I don’t have a process or a routine. I just write when there are words, and there always seems to be words.
10. You’ve done an excellent job at recycling both, the experience of pain and of beauty, into words. Can one write well without a broken (or a mended) heart? How has writing brought comfort, healing and hope in your own life?
I think it depends entirely on what type of writer a person is. Some people only write stories, pure fiction. Others write partially autobiographical fiction. Others only their personal truth. For me, I’ve always just written things that felt like they needed to see the light of day, and sometimes it’s a blend of all things. I know for me, writing is the pressure release valve for everything that goes on internally. It lets me let things out without the entire dam breaking and crumbling down. It slows the spin, as it were.
11. What are the most frequent messages you get from readers? Is there any common denominator or thread in their feedback?
I think the most exciting thing of all this, is seeing how it’s touched other people’s lives and in ways I would never have predicted. Mostly I get messages about Hope, and how it helps people to find it when they think it’s gone. I am always so humbled when I receive messages like this. It shocks and surprises me to no end that little words can have big impacts in the lives of people you will never meet.
12. You have played a significant role in bringing the typewritten style and fashion back to life, with hundreds of shots of your prints circulating online. In this post & repost, virtual world, some degree of plagiarism or, we can call it identical creative imitation is often inevitable. Have you had any serious copycat issues? What is your reaction when encountering a clone?
Ahh, this question gets asked a lot and I never really know how to answer it. I think it is inherent in any art form that if people see it having success, the model is often duplicated, sometimes even inadvertently. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and I don’t know about that, I just know that everyone should write, and everyone should create, and I certainly didn’t invent either poetry or the typewriter, so it’s all fair game.
It’s been wild seeing how many new poets using typewriters have popped up over the last few years since I started doing this, and more than anything, it just makes me so excited that people are getting into poetry again.
13. Aside from writing, you co-own Treehouse Photography, a wedding photo company, that takes you all over the U.S. and other countries, capturing the most important beautiful day in many people’s lives. How does your work as a photographer blend with your work as a writer?
Yes, I co-own Treehouse Photography with my wonderful and talented partner, Sarah Linden, and I absolutely love our job. Being with people on their most special days is inspiring, and it’s so fun to chase the light with people you’ve just met, and now are so intimately connected with. We’re often the only two people with the bride and the groom (or bride and bride, or groom and groom) in some of the most intense moments of their day, and to be witness to that over and over again certainly rubs off.
It blends seamlessly with my writing as it reduces big things down to single moments, glances, touches, grazes and breaths, and it takes those tiny moments and highlights them as the whole story. The whole made out of the parts.
14. What is your favorite, most beautiful moment to photograph in a wedding?
My favorite part, honestly, is the secret moment of joy that finds each person involved, and how that moment is usually not the same for each person. It’s not the vows and it’s not the first kiss, there is a moment, one moment, and I always try to capture it, where the realization hits them and calm finds them. That’s my favorite moment.
Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. In what I have, in what I don’t. In what I see and what I want to see and what I have seen. In where I’m going and where I’ve been. In big things and little things and living things and the natural world around me. I am constantly inspired.
16. You have made not just a living, but also a life out of practicing your creativity. What has been your greatest obstacle in this journey and how have you moved past it?
I think the life of a creative is a constant choice. There have been times over the years where I have been absolutely dead broke, but knew that I couldn’t settle and do a job I would hate. There were and will be dark times, always, but it’s the ache that stirs the words. Without the ache the joy would fall flat. I think the obstacles are what get us to where we need to be. We have to remind our legs that they are strong.
17. It is a fact that writing saves lives. Not just the writer’s life, but also the reader’s. Do you think we should take it more seriously, as a society? Place more emphasis on creative writing education? Become lifetime students and teachers of words?
100% Yes, but I am a tough one to answer this because I’ve always had a fear of being educated about creativity. I have always been so terrified that if I “learn” from someone how to do something creative, I would end up doing it just like the person who taught me, so I always shied away from instruction when it comes to the arts. I would rather do it wrong like myself, than right like someone else.
Saying that, I fully agree that words need to be prominent, and not let them die out. Poetry is our way of expressing that which cannot be expressed, or at least trying.
18. Who would you say have been your greatest teachers or mentors in life? And what are the most important lessons they taught you?
Honestly, I would say my parents. As a family we have endured a lot, and no one has shown me with greater clarity that when you find something worth fighting for, you truly have to fight. You have to pour it all out and just hope the person that you’re pouring it on loves being soaked and laughing as much as you do. That sometimes life gives you a chance to change your life, and when it comes you have to be brave and be bold and remember that courage is doing it even when you are terrified. Because you are terrified. What I know of love, I have learned from watching, and I couldn’t have had a better model to witness.
19. Close your eyes. What is one writing or creative wish you’d like to see come true?
Oh my, one day long from now, I would love to be Poet Laureate of the United States. It will never happen, but hey, a man can dream.
20. What piece of advice would you give to any creator, regardless of his / her age or circumstances, who feels the burning call to express himself/herself through writing (or any other art form), but who is being pulled back by fear, the feeling of not-enoughness, or any other obstacles?
I would say to hell with it all, do what you love. Life is too short to get caught up in the not enough, the could have been, the should have. Life is too short to settle for the middle. Live your life like you love to live, and let the chips fall where they may.
21. Last, but not least, what would you like to be remembered by after you’re gone?
As someone who never stopped giving love, even if it didn’t come back in return. Someone who had compassion and loved living things, all living things, with every drop of blood in his body.
If I outlive him, I’ll make sure this epitaph is on his stone.
Get Tyler’s book here.
Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author, professional photographer, and an artist who lives in the mountains of Helena, Montana, with his two golden retrievers, Calvin and Hobbes. A graduate of the University of Montana’s liberal arts program, with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Criminology, he focused his emphasis on psychology and religious studies, which included Eastern philosophies, Native American spiritualities, and alternative belief systems. When he is not writing, Tyler Knott owns and operates his photography company, Treehouse Photography, with his amazingly talented partner, Sarah Linden. They photograph weddings all over the world, and just like his writing, believe in capturing the silent moments, the hidden glances, big things made small, small things made big. Tyler Knott has been writing since he was 12 years old, and after finding Buddhism that same year, has always seen life in a different way. With wide-eyed fascination and a Whitman-esque appreciation of nature, life, and the miracles in the mundane, he began writing about everything he experienced at a young age. Love, the dynamics of emotion, and the physical connections between people have always bubbled to the surface of his writing. You can contact him via his website, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.