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Two Poets Create Canada’s First Mechanical Poetry Journal

Inspired by the Distriboto machines she'd seen in Montreal, Toronto poet Carey Toane dreamed up the idea of a machine that would dispense poems. When fellow poet and fiction writer Elisabeth de Mariaffi got on board, they found themselves sourcing Wrigley's Excel gum machines on Craigslist and 3 months later, in April 2010, launched Canada's first mechanical poetry journal, Toronto Poetry Vendors (TPV).  

"The idea came out of the renaissance in handmade, DIY self-publishing in Toronto and the larger lit community, with all the beautiful hand-bound chapbooks and letter press books just begging to be handled and cracked open and enjoyed for their tactile qualities as much as for their content. I covet these things," Toane says.  

The poets included in TPV's first two issues aren't self-published, though. The Spring 2010 list includes a previously unpublished poem by Griffin Poetry Prize nominee Kevin Connolly as well as contributions by 9 other Toronto poets such as Dani Couture, Andrew Faulkner, Stuart Ross, and Paul Vermeersch. The Fall 2010 issue, launched last month, includes poets Jeff Latosik, Michael Lista, Angela Hibbs and Nancy Jo Cullen, among others.   The poems are printed on brightly coloured paper measuring the same dimension as a Wrigley's brand package of Excel gum. "I've come to associate poets with a particular colour," de Mariaffi says.

For a toonie, customers are dispensed a neatly folded broadside sealed with a TPV logo sticker. The machines have names: Polar Ice is currently located at Toronto's Type Books; Cinnamon is at a café called Ezra's Pound, and Spearmint is located at Zoot's Café. A travelling machine called Snacks -- a former cigarette dispenser -- is used for such events as the Brooklyn Book Fair in Brooklyn, New York, and Toronto's Canzine fair. For three dollars, Snacks also delivers a poetry 2-pack wrapped in bright ribbon.  

TPV "publishes" twice a year, and pays those it solicits for poems. "We'd like to promote poets whose books are forthcoming," de Mariaffi says. "Though we still don't have the time to wade through a slush pile, so the contributors are asked to send us their work."   "Plus, you get bubble gum," Toane says.

Each broadside is weighted with a piece of Dubble Bubble because it helps with the mechanics of dispensing the product through the machine. Toane and de Mariaffi see the TPV as a way of broadening poetry's exposure. "We wanted a way to showcase Toronto talent in a format that the average café patron would find intriguing but not intimidating. Books and reading and poetry can come across as stuffy and serious and not so much fun, which is a shame."  

For updates on the Toronto Poetry Vendors machines and launches, go here.

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