Toronto Poetry Vendors
Poetry Is Dead recently caught up with Elisabeth De Mariaffi and Carey Toane of the Toronto Poetry Vendors to find out more about these sneaky little vendor machines, dropping out poetry for your coins. You can join them on Facebook here to follow their progress as poetry vendors.
Poetry Is Dead: What compelled you to start this project?
Elisabeth: I think Carey saw a news item on a similar project using a vintage cigarette machine making the rounds in LA, and then we started talking about Distroboto in Montreal--- again, vintage cigarette machines that sell all kinds of miniature art. All those shiny vending machines made us jealous. What we wanted to do here was make the machines more focused--poetry only--and ubiquitous. So not just one; rather, a poetry vending empire.
Carey: Really what happened was I was browsing poetry and translation blog Molossus at work, posted a link to their poetry machine on Facebook, and then corralled everybody who commented or liked it into doing a similar project here in Toronto -- Elisabeth was the only person who was serious, apparently, and it's been great fun working together. We approached the contributors the same way -- sent out an informal email to a large group of people, and then invited those who first expressed interest to contribute to the first issue. It's maintained a good momentum; it all happened in the space of three months.
As for the appeal of a vending poetry machine, well, it's the same thing that sends kids kicking and screaming for quarters at gas stations across the country: the thrill of the unknown, candy-coloured trinket.
PID: How does the thing work?
Elisabeth: The permanent machines run on toonies. They're fairly compact and hang on the wall--- don't tell them, but they were really built to sell packs of Wrigley's Excel gum. Each broadside is folded up into a neat package: we colour-code the broadsides by poet and load the machines alphabetically, but you can't choose which poem you'll get. It's a lot like buying a gumball. You never know what flavour you get to chew until it drops into your hands.
Carey: In honour of their former lives we've named the machines Spearmint, Polar Ice and Cinnamon.
PID: What has the reception been like?
Elisabeth: It's been fabulous. We now have three permanent machines, two of which are installed in local, independent bookstores and one coming soon to an independent coffee house. I find whenever I talk to people about the project, they want in. And I don't just mean book-people. Regular non-poetry-types.
Carey: The first machine launched at This Ain't the Rosedale Library in Kensington Market yesterday, and six poets dropped a toonie and read their poem (it was rigged - you can't otherwise select the poem you will receive). It's been a pleasure to work with independent bookstore owners -- we shop there, we attend each other's events -- and we had a great turnout. Toronto's small press/literary community (I'd say Canada at large, but my experience is limited to this city) has a very well-oiled self-promotional mechanic, and TPV has basked in the loving attentions of local blogs and other websites. Shucks.
PID: The interesting thing to me is how the vendor is essentially a magazine, just a different format/medium. Is there a theme to the pieces and will there be a schedule for new poems to be released?
Elisabeth: So far, we're not holding fast to any theme running through the work itself, although we do limit ourselves to Toronto poets. We're a semiannual journal, so the next issue---meaning, ten new poems by ten new poets---will launch in October of this year.
Carey: When reading the poems submitted we asked ourselves how they would be received, literally; somebody goes into a bookstore, snoops around, discovers this thing, drops in a toonie and then carries this little packet back out onto the street of their city. I imagined people reading them as they walked home, and how they might bounce off the surfaces of their environment. I don't know if that was a theme, but it helped in our selection process.
And of course, because the broadsides are 4"x11", we were also limited by the physical size of the paper, so we looked for poems with shorter lines and no concrete formatting. That doesn't mean, however, that they're all lyrics. We could tell you more, but that would ruin the surprise.
PID: I'd love to see one of these in Vancouver. Do you have plans of expansion?
Elisabeth: Don't tempt us. So far, we've got a fourth machine we've dubbed "The Traveller," meant for distant shores. Or at least, meant for small press fairs and festivals both in and out of Toronto. It's a bigger, tabletop machine that stocks both individual poems and packs of two poems for a bargain three bucks.
Carey: Start your own! VPV has a nice ring to it.
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