As soon as we read Dial-a-Poem: The Groundbreaking Phone Service That Let People Hear Poems Read by Patti Smith, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg & More at the great Open Culture, we picked up our phone and dialed 641-793-8122.

We were surprised by the curious intimacy of a stranger reading a poem to us over the phone and were reminded of the subtle magic of analog. We love knowing that we can call back into the fertile past for a poem anytime (New poems were added from 1968 until 1983). The poem you get is random, and there is no way to share it; it has the effect of a fleeting little performance piece.

Allen Ginsberg poetry reading, Photo by John “Hoppy” Hopkins,

Dial-a-Poem was created by the late poet John Giorno in 1968 who described how he stumbled on the idea:

I sort of stumbled on [the concept] by chance… I was talking to someone on the telephone one morning, and it was so boring. I probably had a hangover and was probably crashing, and I got irritable and said to myself at that moment, “Why can’t this be a poem?” That’s how the idea came to me. And we got a quarter of a page in The New York Times with the telephone number you could dial. 


We totally get with Giorno’s desire to hear a poem. Every morning for nearly a decade, a friend and I have read a poem to each other over the phone. Often, we’ll just open a book at random and read what we find, which is more often than not, just right. We too stumbled upon the idea when we were looking for illuminating ways to start our day.

We discovered that reading – or listening to – a poem has the effect of placing us right IN the moment, shifting us out of linear thinking and often bringing Nature right into our homes and heads.

Going too fast for myself I missed
more than I think I can remember

almost everything it seems sometimes
and yet there are chances that come back

that I did not notice when they stood
where I could have reached out and touched them

this morning the black Belgian shepherd dog
still young looking up and saying

Are you ready this time

—Turning, by W.S. Merwin

A poem consumed before checking our phones or firing up computers is powerful nourishment. But really, a poem experienced any time of day will work magic.

For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry…

Mary Oliver

This beauty by Emily Dickinson knocked us on our head when it came by text message out of the blue:

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