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TelePoem Booth offers dial-up poetry at State College bookstore

by on April 19, 2017 1:32 PM

STATE COLLEGE — Abby Jones searched the directory for her poem “Arnold the Elephant,” tentatively dialed the number next to it and then held the phone receiver up to her ear.  Her own voice came on the line and began reciting the poem, “Arnold the elephant/He’s always a liar/His nose is so long…”

When the elementary student hung up the phone, the crowd that had gathered to witness the opening of the TelePoem Booth display burst into cheers, according to a press release. Abby had completed two firsts: She was the first person to dial up a poem on the retro-fitted 1970s telephone booth, and it was her first time dialing a rotary telephone.

The TelePoem Booth is the first of its kind in State College and is located at Webster’s Bookstore Café, 133 E. Beaver Ave. The interactive art display was the brainchild of artist and writer Elizabeth Hellstern, who was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony April 14. Hellstern’s first TelePoem Booth is located in Flagstaff, Ariz., where John Ziegler originally saw it and fell in poetic love with it.

Upon returning to Centre County, he immediately set his mind to establishing a TelePoem Booth in the local area. Hellstern’s second booth is now owned by the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania and was funded through a Knight Foundation Donor-Advised Fund that is held and managed at Centre Foundation.

“This is such a fun and unique project,” said Molly Kunkel, executive director at Centre Foundation. “We’re happy to facilitate the funding for the TelePoem Booth, which will enhance our community for years to come.”

A committee of local poetry enthusiasts, including Ziegler, Sarah Russell, Steve Deutsch, Katie Bode-Lang and Mary McGuire, worked over the winter months to comb through poetry submissions for the booth.  Now, the public can dial up and listen to 167 poems by 75 local poets, as well as other poems that are publicly available and some from the original Flagstaff booth. 

“The Telepoem Booth is a unique way to bring poems to people’s daily lives,” said Ziegler.  “We have classic and modern poems, as well as the work of our local poets — all available by dialing a rotary phone in an old-fashioned phone booth and hearing a poem read by a poet.”

There are even some unlisted poems.  Hellstern recommends random-digit dialing to try to access these poems. She also hints that dialing “0” will not disappoint the listener.



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