John Giorno didn’t have access to the best technology when he started. Nothing more than a couple of answering machines patched together to a phone line. But he had access to the most avant garde poets of his generation — and that made “Dial-A-Poem” revolutionary.
The late New York-based poet and artist launched his free poetry service in 1969. The 24-hour hotline featured poems read by legendary poets like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Amiri Baraka, and Patti Smith.
At its peak, “Dial-A-Poem” brought in millions of callers and put such a strain on the Upper East Side telephone exchange that it caught the ear of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Through the years, the service has gone through different iterations and numbers. And now, as part of a posthumous exhibition of Giorno’s work, a new phone line has been launched in London, England.
Elizabeth Dee is the director of The John Giorno Foundation. She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the history of “Dial-A-Poem” and the new exhibition. Here is part of their conversation.