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.
And check out these additional sources:
By Kathryne Lim
Dorothea Lasky’s writing on color and poetry is what sparked my own interest in the use of color in poetry. Colors are interesting in that they are descriptive words that can be interpreted differently by different people. For instance, the color green may make one person think of a rainforest and another of a green Mustang. Yellow may evoke feelings of calm in one person, anxiety in another. Looking at color can be an interesting way to experience a poem in a new and different way.
The following is a writing exercise around color that I like to use with groups. It’s a good way to think about how colors affect imagery in a poem. It can also be used as a tool to uncover different layers of meaning within a poem.
First, distribute a poem that contains a lot of colors or color words. Wallace Stevens’ mysterious “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” is a good one to use. Next, ask the participants to circle all the colors in the poem. Have the participants circle all the color words as well. Color words may not be direct colors, but words that suggest colors, such as rainbow, peacock, cloud.
Have a discussion with the participants about what those particular colors represent and what emotions they evoke in them. Discuss whether any of those colors or color words are used in surprising ways in the poem.
Lastly, assign the participants three colors that they must use in their own poem. When they are finished, have them circle the colors and color words used. Just for kicks, have them switch around the colors in the poem. Ask them how this changes the meaning of the poem and whether it offers new insight into their own thought processes.
By Kathryne Lim
Poetry is the only art form that aims to engage its audience through three distinct areas, or modalities. Those modalities being visual, the form or shape a poem takes on the page; textual, or the creation of meaning through written words; and auditory, or the formation of sounds and how a poem is heard. While aware of these areas, many poets fall short of exploring all three with an equal level of skill and attention. Though not Diana Khoi Nguyen.
I recently heard Nguyen read from her debut book, Ghost Of--which won the Omnidawn 2016/17 Open Poetry Book Prize--at Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. I knew then that I was listening to something different, something that blurred and tested the limits of what poetry can do. A few days later, I ordered the book and was not disappointed.
In the book, Nguyen abandons regular stanzaic form, opting instead for sprawling lines, floating fragments, and justified blocks of text. Additionally, she creates forms--circles, shards, silhouettes--from the words on the page. These forms often appear directly beside the images from which they were taken, such as haunting images of family photographs, out of which Nguyen’s brother had cut himself before taking his own life.
The text of the first Triptych that appears in the book mirrors the shape of the family photograph appearing on the preceding page. Within the text, as within the photograph, is a white space where Nguyen’s brother’s form is missing. In appearance, the block text looks structured and contained. But the words themselves create long rambling prose that has no clear beginning or end.
When Nguyen read from the Triptych, her voice was measured and clear. When she came to the white space within the text, her voice dropped off abruptly, remained silent for every missing beat, and then returned with the same measured assuredness. The silence in the middle of the poem was unnerving, captivating the audience. The silent beats came unexpectedly and often in the middle of a word, creating even more jarring breaks, such as:
I am list ening
dropped th e needles
my hands encl ose the environment
I don’t believe I have ever experienced white space at such a visceral level, and the auditory experience ultimately led me to purchase the book. It taught me how to hear Nguyen’s poems in my head, how to take my time with them, how to read them.
While absence and grief are the prevailing themes of the book, Ghost Of is filled with an undeniable spirit. In trying to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of, Nguyen utilizes a variety mediums and is not afraid to be messy or playful or new. Near the end of the book, a sort of revelation can be seen in the poem “Reprise” when Nguyen writes, “Like some strange music: the world started up again around him.”
Ghost Of leaves readers with gives me a feeling of hope--Hope from the fact that art is evolving and our own role in creating it is evidence that we are alive. The experimentation and breadth of Ghost Of is proof that poetry is still very much alive and is even better when shared with its audience in multiple forms.