The Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard's Lamont Library has mounted the interactive exhibition "Phone-a-Poem: A Selection of Archival & Newly Commissioned Answering Machine Poems (2013)" that allows visitors to pick up a back-to-the-future handset and hear the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, James Tate, and Rose Styron read their work. All the archival poems were recorded on cassette tapes and none is longer than an answering-machine message. Contemporary poets Dan Beachy-Quick, Charles Bernstein, Forrest Gander, Anne Waldman, C.A. Conrad, and Oni Buchanan (aside: she's also a concert pianist) are among 15 poets who have contributed commissioned "answering machine" poems for the exhibit; most of these poets' recordings were made this year. Complementing "Phone-a-Poem", which poet Peter Payack began in 1976, are related photographs and letters from Hall, Maxine Kumin, Marge Piercy, and others.
One of the ideas behind the exhibit is "poetry as conversation", according to the Woodberry Poetry Room's curator Christina Davis. As Davis points out in a statement to the Harvard Gazette ("Poetic greetings"), the installation underscores how the "technologies" of poetry and the telephone intersect, each relying on "the voice and on silence, on interpretation and timing," to communicate their message.
"Phone-a-Poem" runs through May 1. As wonderful as it would be to explore the collection on-site, you don't have to travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be able to listen to a selection of both the archival (digitized) and recently made recordings. Just go here. The recordings are listed alphabetically by poets' names, and the titles of each poem and year of recording are indicated.
For upcoming events in the Poetry Room, see WPR Calendar of Events. Woodberry Poetry Room's Website offers a larger selection of highlights from the WPR audio archive at The Listening Booth.