Helena poet wows the Web, now a best-selling author

Gregson

Photo by Sarah Linden

Tyler Knott Gregson, of Helena, is the author of a new book of poems — and a social media sensation with hundreds of thousands of followers.

It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of one of the most popular authors in Montana.

That would be Tyler Knott Gregson, a 33-year-old poet and wedding photographer who lives in Helena and recently published his first book of poems.

The book is doing well. The Wall Street Journal reported last week, in a profile of Gregson, that the book is high on several best-seller lists and that 50,000 copies of it are in print.

But this is the age of social media, and there, before the book came out, Gregson was already something of a sensation. Nearly half a million followers on Tumblr and Instagram await his daily effusions of poetry, and some followers with even more followers themselves — the Journal mentioned a famous actress and a songwriter — have been spreading the word about Gregson on their own social media pages.

The first wave of followers came on after Gregson’s blogging grew to include a daily haiku on love. But what he called “the explosion” didn’t happen until he began posting the Typewriter Series, daily poems composed on a manual typewriter, written on random scraps of paper and then scanned into his computer.

“Before I knew it, it was just going crazy,” he said. “I can’t make sense of it, to be honest.”

Poem

A poem from the Typewriter Series.

It is that honesty, apparently, that has made Gregson so popular. His poems are straightforward, unaffected and passionate, and that is also how he sounds in a telephone interview. He seems genuinely surprised by his fame, going so far as to say that people aren’t really interested in him, “only” in the things he has written.

He says, between bursts of self-effacing laughter, that he is just a guy leading “this very quiet life at the base of a mountain in Helena, Montana.”

Gregson was born in Newport News, Va., but he has spent much of his life in Montana. His father, Glenn “Goose” Gregson, has worked in baseball for 50 years, as a player until shattering his elbow in Triple A ball, and since then as a pitching coach.

His career took the family all over the country. But his mother, Jan Gregson, had family in Helena, and she wanted to be close to them in the off-season, when the family wasn’t wherever the current team was located.

“Helena became kind of a landing pad for us,” Gregson said. He figures he spent half his childhood there. After graduating from high school in Helena, he attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and the University of Montana in Missoula, earning a degree in sociology and criminology with an emphasis on psychology.

It was while attending UM, in about 2001, that he started blogging. Blogging was new then, and Gregson used it as most bloggers did in those early days — as a kind of online journal for the enjoyment of a few friends and family members.

“I just had so many weird thoughts in my brain,” he said. “I just wanted some way to spill them all out.”

He went to New Zealand after college, mostly for the surfing, and quit blogging for a long time. After returning to the United States, he was living in Spokane and started blogging professionally, writing posts for private companies on fitness, golf, medical imaging equipment, whatever his clients wanted.

Gregson said he “always wanted to avoid having a real job and a boss,” but this blogging-for-hire soon got old. “It was hard to stay inspired because it was all stuff I didn’t care about,” he said.

Book

Gregson’s book of poems was published last month.

What he did care about was photography, which he had long pursued as a hobby, favoring pictures of landscapes and animals. Then came an interesting discovery.

“I kind of found out I could make money on the side, just shooting events and stuff for people.”

He started a photography business, working by himself for a few years, but he was “stretched way too thin.” Five years ago, he and Sarah Linden, whom he described as his best friend, started Treehouse Photography, and they are still at it, busier than ever.

Meanwhile, Gregson had taken to blogging again, mainly on Tumblr, a social media site that launched early in 2007. Gregson said the community-based site was the perfect fit for him. Once again, he was sharing random thoughts with family and friends, and he had maybe 10 to 15 followers.

Then, in 2009, he started writing daily haiku on love. Before he knew it, he had more than 10,000 followers. “That blew my mind,” he said.

Then came the explosion.

It was 2012 and he was in the Golden Girls Antique Store on Helena’s Last Chance Gulch. He spotted an old manual typewriter, a Remington Rand 17. Thinking to check out the ribbon, he tore the title page out of a decaying old book he had with him and fed it into the carriage.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, he typed out a poem on the blank part of the title page. Instantly, he loved everything about the experience. He loved that there was no “delete” button, no way to go back and change a word or a phrase. He said he realized that writing on an electronic device was too easy, and that in using it he was “kind of betraying the moment.” Using a manual typewriter was more like photography than writing.

“I knew right there I kind of stumbled onto something I really, really loved and wanted to keep doing,” he said.

Since then, he has continued the Typewriter Series, writing daily poems on scraps of paper — airline boarding passes, receipts, library cards, whatever comes his way.

The Typewriter Series brought in followers by the thousands, and then by tens of thousands. He posts his work — he hasn’t missed a day since starting the haiku or the typewriter poems — on Tumblr and Instagram, which then post automatically to Facebook and Twitter.

One side benefit of his notoriety was that when his followers discovered he was also a wedding photographer, he was being invited to shoot weddings all over the country, and then in foreign countries as well. He and Linden have been very busy in the past year, he said, but they’ve photographed only three or four weddings in Montana.

Gregson has even taken to choosing a country he’d like to visit and then soliciting photography jobs there. He recently booked a wedding shoot on Italy’s Amalfi Coast and another in the West Indies.

No matter how far his writing takes him, Gregson said, he’d like to continue doing wedding photography. It satisfies his wanderlust, he said, and all the emotions he witnesses at weddings inspire his poetry.

The book came about when he was approached on Twitter by an executive with a film company who thought Gregson’s story might make a good screenplay. One thing led to another and Gregson found himself with a literary agent who put a book proposal together fairly quickly.

The result was “Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series,” published on Sept. 2 by Penguin Random House’s Perigee imprint.

Chico

One poem in the Typewriter Series was written on a scrap of paper from Chico Hot Springs.

Gregson was thrilled, not only that Penguin would print his work, but that it would print it just as he wanted it to appear. Each page produces one of his poems on a scrap of paper, interspersed with his photography, so that the pages are not merely blocks of type but separate photographs themselves.

“Part of it was the esthetic of the old typewriter and the paper,” Gregson said. “I’ve never really seen a book like it.”

The book also includes some of his “blackout” poetry. He’ll take a page from an old book, select key words and black-out the rest of the type with a Sharpie. The remaining words form a kind of found poem.

The response to the book has been strange and wonderful and gratifying. Some readers discovering the book and then learning about Gregson have been shocked.

“A lot of people think I was this dead poet from 40 or 50 years ago,” he said.

Gregson said he never had a thought of being read when he began writing.

“I really didn’t,” he said. “I just did it because I felt if I didn’t I’d go a little crazy.”

As the Wall Street Journal article noted, Gregson’s core audience consists of young women. The number of marriage proposals he’s fielded while shooting weddings is “kind of a running joke with my family,” he said.

And though your Last Best News correspondent hates to sound like a gossip columnist, he felt obliged to asked Gregson whether he was in a relationship. He said he was not, which is sure to fuel the hopes of many of his devoted followers.

Gregson insists that the whole thing — the writing and blogging, the photography and now the book — “has never been like an ego boost for me.”

And he has his family to keep him grounded.

“My little sister teases me about it all the time,” he said of his popularity with female followers. “She think’s it’s the funniest thing ever.”

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