I had an actual dream about opening a museum that was full of poetry machines. In the dream, the museum was in my grandparents’ old home, which we had turned into a used bookstore and then when it closed, my nephew and his friend moved into it while they are going to college. But the house was also an amalgamation of a psychiatric museum I had visited in St. Joseph, Missouri.
In this museum, all of the outdated and crude mechanics of psychiatric treatment of the past were on display, along with the artworks and life works of some of the patients. I particularly remember an old TV console with notes stuffed in the back of it, which is what one patient did to communicate with the people he saw on the screen. I loved the poetry in and of that idea.
There was also a beautiful display of nails, coins, buttons, and assorted odds and ends glued to a large frame and encased like a painting. These objects were all taken from the stomach of one particular patient who routinely swallowed things she should not have. Also . . . listen to the poetry in that behavior.
I did not know what a poetry machine was. I had vague ideas of renovating old vending machines. I thought about Woody Guthrie’s tagline on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists.” I fell in love with the word “machine” and its opposition to “poetry” and the synchronicity of the two words together.
We write and read poetry to keep from becoming machines.
Yet, there is a utilitarian beauty to a machine that poetry wants to celebrate.
Woody called his guitar a “machine” because he equated it with the traditional machines of war, oppression, and terror. No, that’s not right. He didn’t equate it with them. He showed its superiority over them. Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, said that he wanted “to make sound the thing that would stop war.” The machinery of war that we keep inventing in bigger and better ways will never stop it. The stopping has to start inside the human.
The human has to produce and then venerate a machine that is in alignment with the human heart. A guitar is an example. And so is a poem.