Listen to Recordings of Allen Ginsberg & Other Poets on Phone-a-Poem, the 1970s Poetry Hotline

phone_a_poemMuch of what we once used the tele­phone for, we now use the inter­net for. Con­verse­ly, some tasks to which the inter­net now seems per­fect­ly suit­ed were once per­formed, imper­fect­ly, through the phone. Take the case of hear­ing poet­ry read aloud. Today, online poet­ry resources are read­i­ly avail­able; you can hear a vari­ety of poets read­ing their work with a few well-direct­ed clicks of the mouse (see our list below). But in 1976, you’d have had to rely on Phone-a-Poem. Oper­at­ed out of Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts by poet Peter Pay­ack, the hot­line offered read­ings by his well-known col­leagues, includ­ing Allen Gins­berg, Denise Lev­er­tov, Don­ald Hall, Charles Bern­stein, For­rest Gan­der, and Anne Wald­man.

Pay­ack mailed these famous poets blank cas­settes to fill with poems and then return; into Pay­ack­’s answer­ing machine the tapes would go for eager dialers to hear auto­mat­i­cal­ly played back. “I gave the aver­age per­son a chance to hear a poem, and if they didn’t like it, they could just hang up,” Pay­ack said to the Har­vard Gazette’s Col­in Man­ning. “Usu­al­ly, if you want­ed to hear the poet’s voice you had to go to poet­ry read­ings, which can be intim­i­dat­ing. But this allowed peo­ple to hear the poet’s voice in their own home, so it wouldn’t be intim­i­dat­ing.” Phone-a-Poem went out of com­mis­sion in 2001, but after a recent exhi­bi­tion of Pay­ack­’s cas­settes at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, you can still hear its poems toll free on, yes, the inter­net, through the playlist embed­ded above.

H/T via @kirstinbutler; image via Har­vard Gazette

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Gins­berg Reads His Famous­ly Cen­sored Beat Poem, Howl

Sylvia Plath Reads “Dad­dy”

Rare 1930s Audio: W.B. Yeats Reads Four of His Poems

“PoemTalk” Pod­cast, Where Impre­sario Al Fil­reis Hosts Live­ly Chats on Mod­ern Poet­ry

Bill Mur­ray Reads Wal­lace Stevens Poems — “The Plan­et on The Table” and “A Rab­bit as King of the Ghosts”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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