Guest Post: Ways for English Graduate Students to Scare Landlords with Terrible Fridge Magnet Poetry

By Katherine Magyarody-Sigal

A few days ago, I climbed the stairs to my apartment and encountered my landpeople, who let me know that they had been in to check on some electrical wiring. They are extremely nice and shy about coming into our space. Anyways, I made it up the final flight of stairs and dumped my bookbag onto the kitchen table. And I looked over. And I froze. And I hoped that in their journey across the apartment, they did not look at the kitchen table and did not see the cookie sheet there, on which I had composed the worst fridge-magnet poetry ever. Poetry…not even poetry…words that makes me seem delusional, lovelorn, possibly homicidal. It begins:

if nevermore
I mourn that kiss
my silent scream
will make him howl

And so on and so forth. The fact that fridge-magnet poetry doesn’t come with punctuation makes it seem drastic, even more unhinged than I intended. If I was a landperson and encountered the rest of the composition, my first thought would be a little beyond “Hmm…Not the ideal tenant. I wonder if her relationship is okay.”

The “poem” was a result of a birthday present and one of those muzzy mornings, after the first coffee, but before I felt prepared to pick up the stack of grading waiting for me. Instead of facing two hundred and forty pages of neatly stapled undergraduate suffering, I had decided to make use of a gift my aunt had sent me.

Quirky gifts are one of the inevitable consequences of studying English literature. Relatives assume that because you like to read, you will appreciate an object, usually with fancy font which is sometimes matched with fancy vocabulary. Whether you study Wulf and Eadwacer or food puns in Salman Rushdie, the big winners are Shakespeare (everyone) and Jane Austen (if you are female). My aunt scored pretty close, this year, giving me Edgar Allan Poe themed fridge magnets. Wrong continent, but same century! Excellent!

The little white squares are printed with choice Poe vocabulary: amontillado, tell-tale, quoth, raven, crypt, heart, nevermore… It made me wonder how the restriction of vocabulary would shape any attempts at expression.

And in the interests of procrastination, I wrote the following:

if nevermore
I mourn that kiss
my silent scream
will make him howl
shiver unseen
within my dream
he is broken
his heart echoing
thunder lightning
a spirit cold
black dawn dark dusk
bitter white moon
pale lonely night
our young dead love
shudders through us
and clouds his dream

Oh yeah, I thought, this is like the revenge of Annabel Lee! It doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t consistently scan and the use of Poe’s vocabulary haunts me in like a greasy dinner coming back as heartburn at midnight.

Nevertheless, I think it might have the bones of a fun creative assignment, to help students become more aware of diction. The words the fridge magnet people chose often also have a nice rhythm to them. The importance of punctuation might also be a teaching point.

Alternatively, it reads like the diary of a fifteen year old who is in love with some moody actor and trying to use mind control to get him to find her.  I can’t quite decide.

In the meanwhile, I should make sure that my very nice landpeople don’t catch me talking to any ravens.Poe fridge poetryAbout the author: Katherine Magyarody-Sigal is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on social formations in nineteenth-century narratives of empire.