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Dial-A-Poem at the Architectural League by Michael McClanathan, 1968

The John Giorno Foundation announces their official Dial-A-Poem telephone line, available to callers on a local New York City number at +1 (917) 994-8949. Replicating many of the earliest Dial-A-Poem recordings and including later additions from the Giorno Poetry Systems record label, this collection of 286 recordings by 130 poets was hand-selected by Giorno himself in 2019 for what would become the final iteration of the analog telephone artwork. The selection of recordings celebrates the artistic, literary, political, and musical cultures with which Giorno was in dialogue from the mid-1960s onward, and includes work by titans of the performance poetry and spoken word worlds as Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, Penny Arcade, Amiri Baraka, William S. Burroughs, Diane Di Prima, Diamanda Galas, Allen Ginsberg, Bernard Heidsieck, Lydia Lunch, Meredith Monk, Psychic TV, Patti Smith, Anne Waldman, Giorno, and over 100 more.

Dial-A-Poem was first installed at The Architectural League of New York in 1968, then six lines routed to industrial-sized answering machines playing back audiotapes of work by poets in addition to radically-aligned political activists. After receiving a quarter-page review in The New York Times on January 12, 1969, the project received millions of calls, resulting in threats from the telephone company to shut it down entirely. In response to its popularity, Giorno remarked, “There must be some way to expand on this acceptance of Dial-A-Poem, at least long enough to keep the project going. We need someone to come along and exploit us — for our own survival.”

Dial-A-Poem went on to be included in Information at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, curated Kynaston McShine, followed by Software at the Jewish Museum. In 1972, Giorno Poetry Systems the nonprofit expanded to include the eponymous record label, releasing the first of many compilation LPs by “The Dial-A-Poem Poets.” In 2012, Dial-A-Poem was shown again in Ecstatic Alphabets at the Museum of Modern Art, this time foregoing the phone lines routed to tape machines for four rotary telephones retrofitted with computer chips containing sound files, which museumgoers could pick up and dial any number to listen to the recorded poems.

Writing in 2012, Giorno aptly characterized his project: “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-HoroscopeDial-A-Stock QuotationDial 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.”

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