Oct 18, 2021 1 min, 20 secs

In 1968, the poet and visual artist John Giorno was on the telephone when he was hit with an idea.

He imagined utilising the telephone as a medium of mass communication, in order to generate a new relationship between poet and audience.

This would become Dial-a-Poem: one telephone number that anyone could call, 24/7, and listen to a random recorded poem – liberating spoken poetry from what Giorno termed “the sense-deadening lecture hall situation”.

In 1970, the project moved to MoMA, expanding to host a total of 700 poems by 55 poets – including Black Panther poets and queer erotic poetry.

As the project gained press coverage, calls to Dial-a-Poem skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands, putting immense strain on the Upper East Side telephone exchange.

Recent poetry projects have probed this idea: Amy Key’s Poets in Bed podcast (an “ongoing experiment in intimacy”) features contemporary poets reading work from beneath their own duvets.

Can social media, our current means of mass communication, facilitate such an intimate poet-audience exchange on a larger scale?

Instapoets such as Rupi Kaur and Atticus have amassed millions of followers by sharing their poetry on social media platforms.

Participating in social media is inherently transactional: in exchange for access, we are constantly (by degrees unknowingly, tacitly or willingly) trading away our privacy – our geolocation, browsing habits, contacts – so that companies can more effectively advertise to us, and we become more productive consumers.

You’d briefly glimpse people in their homes; alone or with lovers; eating, smoking; illuminated by the screen, sometimes by candlelight – visual testimony to the private-yet-shared exchange between poet and audience we’d taken part in.

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