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Stuck on Magnetic Poetry

Guest Column Veena Thomas

My sister didn't get me anything last Christmas. When you're fourteen, it's a little hard to find transportation in order to shop for presents. Instead, she gave me some money, and told me that I could use it as a sort of all-applicable gift certificate to buy myself anything I wanted. After looking around the mall for hours, something caught my eye: a small box filled with words.

A magnetic poetry kit? I had scoffed at these: Who would spend twenty dollars for a little box with even smaller words inside that could be stuck to a refrigerator? Heck, if I wanted, I could write words on little pieces of paper and tape them up to my refrigerator. I'd save myself a lot of money.

But the day after Christmas, I felt a lot less cynical, and quite willing to spend someone else's cash. Besides, it's always fun to spend gift money on something that you would not usually buy yourself.

So a few minutes later I left the store with my brand-new magnetic poetry kit, trying to decide whether I had just blown twenty bucks. When I got home, I immediately started to arrange the words on the refrigerator. Nope, Mom said, the magnets might scratch the fridge. And the poetry box warned, "Poetry can be digested figuratively, NOT literally. Be careful not to swallow these words especially if placed on a refrigerator where they might fall or get knocked into something you plan to eat."

I ended up buying myself a cookie sheet and arranging all of the little words on it. For the next few days, the tiny magnets consumed my life. Never before was I one to write poetry in my spare time, but with a lot of words in front of you, it is easy to look at them and arrange them into something serious, humorous, beautiful, or whatever fits your mood.

The words in a poetry kit include the basics: he, she, the, and, it; but they also cover the poetic: eternity, vision, bitter, worship; and they even venture in to the bizarre: sausage, manipulate, luscious, rust. It's amazing how having words in front of you opens up so many possibilities, eliminates mental blocks, and causes you to think in strange ways. Somehow I found myself writing beautiful (in my opinion) poetry about raw sausage.

For twenty dollars, I had bought myself a little psychiatrist in a box. Sure, it couldn't talk back, but sometimes a therapist just provides an opportunity for people to talk about how they feel and reflect upon their inner thoughts. Poetry provides the same kind of release. And how many other psychiatrists can be carried around on a cookie sheet?

Upon encountering magnetic poetry on a refrigerator, or on a cookie sheet, it is difficult not to fiddle with the words in an attempt to create Pulitzer-winning poetry or prose, or at least something worthy of being displayed for others to see. One day I came into my room only to see that my sister had contributed her own addition to my cookie sheet: "I lather apparatus and recall drunk easy gorgeous him."

A few months ago, Harvard Square had a poetry project. A large magnetic board with several poetry kits on it was set up in the square. People were free to create their own poetry by rearranging the words in any way they saw fit. Every week, whoever was in charge of the project would choose one poem and attach a plastic board over it with the words "poem of the week" on it so that the words could be preserved for others to see. Instead of randomly scribbling initials on a wall, people have the opportunity to contribute something positive to society, something entertaining, and something that others can appreciate.

My initial reluctance at spending twenty dollars on my magnetic poetry kit was unfounded. Magnetic poetry allows anyone to write spontaneous poems without the fear or intimidation that often accompanies writing poetry. If it takes magnets to re-introduce society to the wonders of poetry, then so be it. Or, in the words of my poetry kit, "It is time to think about how to produce true meaning without elaborate language."

Veena Thomas is a member of the class of 2002.