As kids we loved old-fashioned vending machines that would drop a little plastic container holding a treasure — a ring, miniature toy, or candy — through the shoot when we put in a dime or a quarter. Lately, various iterations of poetry vending machines have been coming to our attention, perfect for our adult selves. Imagine putting 50 cents in the slot, turning the lever and receiving an uplifting hit of Mary Oliver*:

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

How cool to find poems in a repurposed cigarette or candy vending machine…

And as we thought how much we’d love to make our own poetry vending machine, we poked around a bit to discover it is not that hard. You can buy a Toy Capsule Vending Machine for as little as $120, less if you get a used one.

poetry vending machine for diy

Then you buy empty Acorn Capsules

poetry vending machine capsulesjpg

…and fill them with poems you print out, fold and place inside…

bird poem anne sexton

A poetry vending machine would probably pay itself in no time, and perhaps make some money; It would certainly spread delight and good will…

Need poems? Just search our vast archive of poetry…

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

*”I Worried” from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

With thanks to Susan Dworski for alerting us to the poetry vending machine trend.

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6 replies on “Poetry Vending Machine DIY, with Mary Oliver, Rumi, Anne Sexton

  1. reminds me of arriving in the now (poem by Mary Oliver )
    and of the song i heard this morning :

    ” My heart, I wear you down
    I know, gotta think straight
    Keep a clean plate
    Keep from wearing down
    If I lose my head
    Just where am I going to lay it ”

    (Joanna Newsom, “In California” )

    ps . Need Poems ? sounds like a possible worldwide service ( oh wait, it is ; )

  2. I love this! The only part I don’t love is all those throwaway plastic capsules. I wonder if the poems would drop out the chute correctly if they were just rolled up and clipped with a paperclip or a rubber band. Or folded into small squares and sealed with a small adhesive dot? Has anyone tried any other ideas for poem containers?

  3. I hear you about the plastic…All your good ideas might work. It would take either buying a Vending Machine or asking to test one out.

  4. Is it ok to make money off of someone elses poems? Do you have to get their permission? I love this idea, we don’t have enough poetry and this is a great way to get more out there. but would want to make sure there were no legal issues.

  5. You make an excellent point. No doubt you WOULD have to get permission for poems still in copyright. Out of copyright material I believe would be okay, which includes A LOT of wonderful poetry, including Emily Dickinson, Rumi and the great old haiku guys. Thanks!

  6. That’s my poetry machine in the picture at the top. I have two of them now, one at a bookstore in Chicago and one at a brewpub. Both dispense only my published poems so I don’t have to seek anyone’s permission for selling their poems, don’t have to hassle with curating what goes in the machine, and don’t have to worry about plagiarism because they are documented as by me in the publications where originally printed. I don’t keep the money–the proceeds go to a local nonprofit called Arts Alive Chicago; I’ve raised a couple of thousand dollars for them, little by little, over the years. As for the capsules, while some people decide to keep and some, I’m sure, do throw them out (not so great for the environment), many people recycle the capsules in bins we provide and I use them again and again. Without the capsules, the poems would get stuck in the machinery. You can learn more about this project at I know I am commenting on a five-year-old blog piece, but I only just now discovered it.

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