John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem is Back On!

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Almine Rech Gallery in London has opened up one of John Giorno’s most important and famous audio works called the Dial-a-Poem project, available from the 12th of October to the 13th of November 2021, where callers get a chance to hear recordings from an archive of poetry and political oration first produced in 1968. Additionally, the phone project service was accessible during the Frieze London Fair for four days from the 13th of October, which gave attendees the opportunity to dial the number from the telephone booth at the site.

This project allows people to listen to a collection of poems by dialling the following number +44 20 4538 8429, which then connects to a random chosen poem out of a selection of over 200; sometimes you could hear poetry by writers such as Anne Waldman and John Ashberry, and other times you could get connected to civil rights speeches, which was one of Giorno’s most significant innovations.

Even though Dial-a-Poem received more than a million calls, the service lost its funding and ended in 1971 after complaints of indecency and claims that some poems incited violence. However, the Dial-a-Poem project has now revived and developed for access by the New York-based John Giorno Foundation, who made the calls free-of-charge for everyone. The foundation director, called Elizabeth Dee, said, “Initially it was a challenge. We’ve had to-recode all of the files; the plan is for the phone line to be active long term. John was always at the forefront of technology. Going through his archives, we also discovered a letter by the [then] director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the trustees, saying that the FBI had investigated John for this ‘subversive act’. Those texts and poems are of the time [1960s] but we’d like to work with other foundations to bring the concept forward. We’ll invite indigenous artists, poets and musicians to contribute to the concept.”

The Almine Rech Gallery now presents two bodies of work in its London show by John Giorno, which are titled ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Perfect Flowers’; they are a series of luminous prints inscribed with poetic text by artist such as ‘Daffodils Baptized in Butter’. 

Back when John Giorno worked on changing how poetry is perceived and created, he told Interview magazine how he came about creating the Dial-a-Poem project service, “I sort of stumbled on it by chance – this phenomenon of connecting a telephone with content and publicity. I was talking to someone on the telephone one morning, and it was so boring. I probably had a hangover and was probably crashing, and I got irritable and said to myself at that moment, ‘Why can’t this be a poem?’.”

The phone service for Dial-a-Poem will continue to be available until the 13th of November 2021, so make good use of it by calling the number down below; and click the link further down to find out more information about the John Giorno Foundation and its Dial-a-Poem project, as well as the poems included in this service.

Dial-a-Poem Phone Number: +44 20 4538 8429

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