In 1968, Giorno created Dial-A-Poem using a telephone service to communicate poetry in a modern idiom. More than one million people used the service, which inspired a range of artistic and commercial applications such as Dial-A-Joke, Dial Sports and Dial-A-Horoscope.
“Dial-A-Poem began at the Architectural League of New York in 1968, was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1969, and in the Information exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by Kynaston McShine, in 1970. I released a series of 50 LP and CD albums called The Dial-A-Poem Poets in the 1970s and '80s, encouraging people to start to their own Dial-A-Poem, and use cuts from the albums along with their local poets. I have worked with sound engineer Bob Bielecki for more than 40 years.
In 2012, in the Ecstatic Alphabets exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, curated by Laura Hoptman, there was a retrospective of Dial-A-Poem. I chose 80 poets and 200 poems from over 5,000 poem recordings in the archive. Callers, using new technology, which allowed us to digitally receive limitless calls, randomly accessed the 200 poems. In 1968, we had 12 hard lines with industrial size answering machines. There were four phones in the MoMA gallery, with the 200 poems on a computer chip in each, randomly accessed.
Dial-A-Poem 1968-’70 was unique in that it discovered the telephone as a venue of mass communication. On January 12, 1969, we received at quarter page review in The New York Times, which included the telephone number twice. We received millions of calls. The first day we gave off 250,000 busy signals at any one time, and the telephone company threatened to cut us off. This success led to many other newspaper and magazine reviews, always printing the phone number: Daily News, New York Post, Harpers Bazaar, Time, NBC's The Today Show, and The New Yorker, each time with the phone number, which made more people want to call. If a caller was bored with John Ashbery, they hung up and called again, and got John Cage, William Burroughs, Jim Carroll. I also discovered that creating a desire that is un-fulfillable is the ultimate success.
With Dial-A-Poem, I stumbled on the phenomena of the telephone as a new media, connecting three things: publicity, a telephone number, and content accessed by a huge audience. Before Dial-A-Poem, the telephone was used one-to-one. Dial-A-Poem’s success gave rise to a Dial-A-Something industry: from Dial-A-Joke, Dial-A-Horoscope, Dial-A-Stock Quotation, Dial Sports, to the 900 number paying for a call, to phone sex, and ever more extraordinary technology. Dial-A-Poem, by chance, ushered in a new era in telecommunications.”
- John Giorno on Dial-A-Poem, 2012
2017 Red Bull Arts, New York, NY
2015 Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR
1992 Poemfone, New York, US
1985 Montreal, CA
1983 Berlin and 12 Cities in West Germany, DE
1980 Amberson, PA, US
1976 TELEPOEM, Venice, CA, US
DIAL-A-POEM, Milwaukee, WI, US
Indianapolis, IN, US
Louisville, KY, US
1975 PHONE-A-POEM, Cambridge, MA, US
1973 Albany, NY, US
1972 The Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, US
1970 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, US
Cardiff, Wales, UK
1969 The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, US
Operaseji Fers (Frisian Language), Leeuwarden, NL
1968 The Architectural League of New York, New York, NY, US
DIAL-A-POEM, THE ARCHITECTURAL LEAGUE OF NEW YORK, 1969
DIAL-A-POEM, MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, 1970
POETS INCLUDED ’12, CENSORED BY THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART IN 1970:
DIAL-A-POEM AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, 2012
Diane Di Prima
Sound engineer: Bob Bielecki