If you would have told me a year ago that in less than seven months I would have managed to assemble and install a fully functional poem dispenser, I would probably have laughed at you. A poem dispenser? Such nonsense. Intriguing nonsense, but nonsense all the same—certainly not the type of nonsense I would think of as a feasible goal. The very idea seems barmy. I do often exhibit an optimistic and hopeful attitude towards the future, mostly due to my large imagination, and may sometimes even be accused of bovarism, but when I first half-laughingly suggested the idea, I certainly did not think that this would be in any way a plausible, if at all possible, achievement. But dreams, it seems, can sometimes come true; one does not even have to travel past the rainbow. Even when the dream in question is really, really barmy.
‘Quixotic’ is defined by my dictionary as ‘extremely idealistic, unrealistic and impractical’. The word belongs to, by far, my favorite category of terms—terms which have their roots in literature. ‘Quixotic’ finds its origins in Spanish literature, referring back to one of the first heroes in literary history: Don Quixote. The knight who went to fight the windmills is undoubtedly the epitome of distorted ambition and outdated ideals. But a bit of hallucination is sometimes not unhealthy, as it shows. If it were up to me, I would fill my life with quixotry (BAM, it rhymes).
I did not have any windmills to fight, or giants, for that matter, but I did have a machine to somehow bring into existence; a machine of which the very premise is quixotry. The idea is simple enough: you take your average toy vending machine, but instead of putting toys in the little capsules, you put in poems. When I first encountered the concept (for the record, I did not come up with this idea; I stole it from Pinterest) I immediately imagined such an apparatus residing at my university, in the corridor where the English Department is situated. It would be nothing short of glorious.
What an idea! The tiny universe created in a poem, contained into a plastic shell, brought randomly to whomever is willing to be surprised by poetry. The idea appealed immensely to my literary idealism; spreading knowledge and wisdom, making it marketable, and therefore accessible to a wide range of people (people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in poetry)... A utopian fantasy, but one I did not imagine ever being able to bring to fruition. It was a quixotry: the department could not possibly agree with it, it would be impossible to finance, and the practicalities behind it all seemed like a cloying web of logistics, which I knew I was no good at.
I was never so happy to be wrong. When I first suggested it, my peers’ enthusiasm about the idea surprised me, and because some of these peers have connections inside the department, they laid the first stones on the path hence: the department’s approval. More than this: they agreed to finance it, which was more than I could have hoped for. And once this foundation was laid, me and two dear friends of mine have been collaborating to bring about this quixotic experiment.
Don’t get me wrong: it was a cloying web of logistics, and there were many issues to deal with before we got where we are now, but on the whole it went more smoothly than I could have hoped for. I found a firm which still sells these (pretty old-fashioned) vending machines, inquired after their produce, got information. Once the type of dispenser had been settled on, I took care of the correspondence, paid for the dispenser (I still have to get my money back from the department, but I am confident that this will happen soon enough), and made sure that it, along with a very big bag of capsules, was sent to one of my co-conspirators, a very nice girl who in the mean time had been taking care of the object on which the dispenser would be mounted: a multi-functional upcycled cabinet, with three drawers, respectively for (1) empty capsules, (2) poem suggestions, and (3) a tiny book exchange. The result, I daresay, is quite enchanting.
I, in the meantime, had to concern myself with the poems, which took some doing, since to fill the dispenser, one needs to fill 173 capsules. Which equals 173 poems. Even with my literary education, I can not, off the top of my head, name 173 poems, so I borrowed greedily from both the internet and my father’s library. This also required a system, because to avoid entering the same poem twice, I had to carefully keep track of which poems I used in my selection. I never much saw the use of spreadsheets, but I am quite in love with them now (oh lord, I’m starting to sound practical).
Another annoying thing about the poems was of a more physical nature: the capsules in which I had to fit them are pretty small, and I had to make sure to make my papers compact enough to fit into these capsules in their folded state. This also caused some difficulties, but we ultimately settled on an A5 format (which, in turn, had consequences for the type of poems I could include in my selection), and a particularly light type of paper, which can be folded into a very small size. Finding the right printer took some doing, but this obstacle was eventually also overcome. The dispenser has since been moved to the department, and once I get my money back, it is ready for use.
Realizing the quixotic, then, was not as impossible as I had thought, but it took quite some toil to get there. The more so, of course, because this is not a project for which I could rely on the expertise of others—none of them had ever endeavored something like this. The process, on the whole, felt like a long protracted improvisation, with a lot of groping in the dark, every turn making me wonder what on earth I was doing. But the results are there. Incredibly. Quixotically. But truly. My next dream is to organize a flash mob. Though that might be just a bit too quixotic.