Blog Post

Gumball Poetry & The Pedagogy Project: A Creative Project

Though new to my campus, the poetry-dispensing gumball machine is something that has popped up in universities, hospitals and other locations. Nearing completion of the project I can lay out my how-to, in hopes others may continue this kind of project. I've broken the project into steps, giving my general advice first followed by the details of my particular version as an example.

Step One

Before you locate a machine, plastic capsules or even poems, find a place where the machine can live. The gumball machine is a small investment in and of itself, and you want it to have a safe place for it. This includes not only the day-to-day space of the project, but also where the machine will go once it's ready to be taken down.

Our gumball machine will be living on the first floor of the library, near the front door. The first floor sees a steady stream of traffic, but the machine will be in constant view by the circulation desk. After the project, the English department will house the machine until next April, when it'll be dusted off and brought out again!

Step Two

Purchase/Locate/Acquire your machine & plastic capsules. There are lots of places one can do this. Plan ahead for shipping times and possible problems with the machine that may require time to fix. Broken stands, plastic capsules that are too big, etcetera, are possible problems that will be hard to fix on the spot.

For the project going up in April I ordered the machine and plastic capsules mid-February, it arrived around the end of the month. I put it together and checked that the capsules dispensed properly.

Quick side note: I purchased a machine that has a "free-spin" coin mechanism, meaning you don't have to put money in the machine to get a poem. Despite possible legal issues, there are enough inhibitors of putting poetry in people's hands as is. The provider of our machine and plastic capsules was

Step Three

Purchase/Locate/Acquire poetry. Okay, hopefully you won't have to purchase it. This can be done in a number of ways. Just be aware an entire poem isn't likely going to fit into the space of a 1.1'' plastic capsule. You can have students bring in lines of poems, or even ask that people submit poems of their own for the project.

For our project, the poems will mostly come from graduate students related to the M.F.A. program.

Step Four

Fill your capsules. Or, putting poetry into the capsule. Again, there are probably a few ways to do this.

For this project, I used a mailing label template on my word processing program to type the lines of verse on, along with the poet's name and year of graduation. Once printed, they were easy to cut and fold into small squares.

Step Five

Once you have your filled capsules and your machine set up in a safe spot, you're good to fill it up and watch the poetry flow outwards. Step five might also include a small wastebasket near the machine, to try and circumvent a plague of small plastic lids and bottoms.


And that's it– there's a fair number of things that can go wrong, but with enough time built in to the organizing and planning of the project I feel the issues could be resolved smoothly. This is a unique, fun and charming way to get poetry into the hands of a community– and in our case, foster a connection between the poetry community and the larger campus.


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