Celebrating 50 years since the late John Giorno’s public art project, the Dial-a-Poem mobile app is now available to download for free on iOS and Android devices. Users can listen to and read original poems on the theme of calling by poets from around the world and discover new work by award-winning writers reflecting on the poetry of the telephone.

Giorno’s original service was installed at the Architectural League of New York in January 1969. Discussing the idea, John Giorno recalls: ‘I was talking on the phone at like eleven o’clock in the morning and it was boring gossip and you know how you get irritated’; but on listening again to the voice, he says, he realised that ‘this voice could … be a poem’. The telephone had massive potential to build audiences for poetry and to develop counter-cultural networks. Over the next few years, and in various installations, vital voices in North America could be heard by phoning ‘212.628.0400’ and hearing a recording at random: Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Patti Smith and the Black Panthers all featured. Giorno’s service interpreted ‘poetry’ in an expanded sense: polemics and Revolutionary Letters appeared alongside unapologetically queer love poetry. At the same time, Giorno showed us that poetry can help us to understand, or even to change, the the technologies of communication.

Rewired in 2020 for the digital age, our Dial-a-Poem app pays homage to the intimacy of Giorno’s original service. One of our feature poets Vahni Capildeo reflects: ‘When the telephone rings, we are invited to step out of linear time and the practical cares of our immediate moment and into a heightened world of contact with another person or, depending on the culture and circumstances of phone calls, with other people.’ The Dial-a-Poem mobile app offers readers and listeners the chance to engage with poems from various cultures and circumstances, many of which were composed originally for this project: Ather Zia, for instance, bears witness to the abuse of the civil liberties of Kashmiri subjects by the Indian government; Asiya Wadud contends with the tragedy of collective indifference to the distress calls of the Left-to-die Boat stranded off the Libyan coast in 2011; and Amy Sara Carroll engages frenetically with Giorno’s legacy in the context of Mexican muralism. As with Giorno’s original service, art and activism powerfully coincide, fulfilling Audre Lorde’s claim that ‘poetry is not a luxury’. In its own way, Dial-a-Poem uses the entwined technologies of telecommunications and poetry to cross figurative and lived borders.

By nature of a project centred on recording, Giorno Poetry Systems has produced a rich ‘oral archive’, in the words of Anne Waldman. This is also true of the Dial-a-Poem app, for which a full phone book of poems and corresponding unique four-digit numbers can be found at the Crossed Lines website. So download the app and get dialling!


Reflecting on the long history of creative calling and the polyvocal spirit of Dial-a-Poem, the Crossed Lines project is inviting contributions to an online exhibition of literary telephones. If you’ve ever found a telephone ringing out a literary text, Crossed Lines wants to hear from you!

They’re looking for references to telephones in literary texts of all genres, and from a range of periods and places. Texts may be obscure or well-known, and international literatures are encouraged (although submissions must include an English translation). All submissions should include a quotation from the text (up to 150 words) accompanied by a brief account of the role of the telephone in the chosen title (around 200 words), along with an image of the relevant book cover. All contributions accepted for our online exhibition will be fully credited to each individual author. Closing date: 10 July 2020.

Please email sarah.jackson02@ntu.ac.uk if you are interested in participating, or visit their website for further information.

Credit: BT Heritage & Archives