Individual Work
Kimchi Poetry Machine

The Kimchi Poetry Machine was created in 2014 when Margaret Rhee was part of a fellowship from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) Invention Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. Powered through open sourced tangible computing, the machine allows writers to send in poems that are featured and the reader can touch and interact with the piece. The Kimchi Poetry Machine is a jar that poetry audibly flows out when opened. Exploring topics like feminism, food, and culture, the Kimchi Poetry Machine is a metaphor of the writing process that authors go through. Much like fermenting kimchi in a jar, writing takes time and patience.

Rhee makes a statement about femininity through the juxtaposition of the maternal aspect of cooking and the tangy spiciness of kimchi. The installation piece incorporates visual, audial, and tangible elements to make the reader feel like they are part of the installation. After they open the jar, the reader can take a paper poem out of the jar and tweet their own poems to the machine’s twitter account. By having many different poems from many different authors featured, the Kimchi Poetry Machine leaves a stronger impact, because it emphasizes solidarity and the collective experience shared by women across the world. Margaret Rhee said, “what began as a personal passion of encouraging public participation of creative expression has translated into large-scale participatory art workshops, installations, and inventions that promote interaction and collective story-telling.” Rhee was able to make her machine engaging enough through allowing many writers to participate, gaining multiple points of view, that the experience grew from an idea to a movement.

The machine produces different “batches” of poems written by both women and transgender poets. Some batches have themes chosen by Margaret Rhee. For example, Rhee and Rona Luo hosted a yoga and creative writing workshop in which writers were asked to write poetry responding to the prompt: “What is healing to you?” They were asked to consider what healing looks like, tastes like, and feels like in order to create their own unique definition. Many of the women connected healing to their mothers taking care of them and cooking for them. Women are connected to healing culturally because they are traditionally considered mothers and caretakers. The last lines of the a poem written at the workshop are, “Writing is healing. / Writing this is healing.” People heal through things that comfort them, whether it is the nostalgia of being taken care of by their mothers or expressing themselves through poetry. They also had a workshop in a “Koreans in America” class in which all of the poems were about kimchi and its close connection to tradition. Rhee has videos of her installation and more information about it on her website

Author statement: 
From the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 3: The Kimchi Poetry Machine is powered by open-source tangible computing. When the jar is opened, poetry audibly flows from it, and readers and listeners are immersed in the meditative experience of poetry. Small “kimchi twitter” paper poems are housed inside the jar, with each poem is printed an invitation to tweet a poem to the machine handle. Eight original feminist “kimchi twitter” poems were written for the machine by invited women and transgender poets. The Kimchi Poetry Machine prototype was created through my 2014 summer fellowship from the CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) Invention Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. As a response to “bookless” libraries, The Kimchi Poetry Machine reimagines how tangible computing can be utilized for a feminist participatory engagement with poetry.