by Kathryne Lim
When I stepped inside the Telepoem Booth in Santa Fe and picked up the receiver, I was excited to engage with poetry in a whole new way. Elizabeth Hellstern’s imaginative idea had been transformed into a brilliant reality. The use of the disappearing phone booth is not only whimsical, but offers a touch of nostalgia, a nod to the days of gritty connectivity.
I heard about the project shortly after moving back to Santa Fe and was very intrigued by it. In the booth, I listened to Joan Logghe, former Santa Fe poet laureate, read one of her poems. Listening to the poem in a public, but also private, intimate space caused me to think about the ways we encounter poetry, and how poetry can be incorporated into our everyday lives.
The Telepoem Booth is an interactive, multi-sensory, community-based art piece that connects an audience to poetry through active participation. The viewing public is invited to enter the Telepoem Booth, where they find a directory listing poets and their individual poems alongside an assigned telephone number. Once they choose a poem and dial the number on a rotary phone, an .mp3 recording of the poem recited by the poet plays through the receiver.
The Telepoem Booth debuted at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, AZ, and was followed up with another booth in Flagstaff, AZ. A permanent Telepoem Booth, with 150 poems from writers in the area, is located in College State, PA. Recent Telepoem Booths debuted at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, NM and at Burris Hall on the campus of Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM. The City of Santa Fe has acquired a permanent Telepoem Kiosk, which will feature 155 poems by poets in the area. Another booth is forthcoming at the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation in Santa Barbara, CA.
Poems are curated, usually through an open call to poets living in the region. Poets of all levels and stages of their careers are encouraged to participate. The individual poets and booths will eventually form a network, connecting poets and audiences alike.
On what inspired the project’s origins, Hellstern shared, “I was in love with touching the art objects when I hung shows, and wished that everyone could feel the pieces as intimately as I got to when they visited the gallery. When I went back to school for my MFA, I wanted to create an interactive art piece that people could touch as much as they wanted. As a writer, I wanted to make words more multimedia.”
What is most appealing to me about this project is the way it makes poetry accessible and inviting to an audience that may not otherwise reach out for it. As Hellstern says, “The booths create a strong sense of community in the poets and users and have created positive interactions with poetry that might not otherwise be possible. Our hope is that poetry can make a difference in the world.”
Anyone interested in having a Telepoem Booth in their area should contact the Telepoem Booth Organization for more information.
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