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. Jones 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. The interactive art display was the
brainchild of artist and writer, Elizabeth Hellstern, who was on-hand for the
ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday evening. Hellstern’s first TelePoem Booth is
located in Flagstaff, Arizona, 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
“This is such a fun and unique project,” stated 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
There are even some unlisted poems, which add to the intrigue
of the TelePoem Booth. Hellstern
recommends random-digit dialing to try to access these poems. She also hints that dialing “0” will not
disappoint the listener.
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, members of 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,” noted 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.”
For more information, please e-mail TelepoemBooth@gmail.com and like the Facebook page.
Above: John Ziegler and Molly Kunkel cut the ribbon, opening the TelePoem Booth to the public!
Above: Crowd at Webster's waits their turn to experience the TelePoem Booth.
Above: John Ziegler inside the retro-fitted phone booth, now an interactive poetry experience.
Above: Abby Jones dials-up her poem, "Arnold the Elephant."
Above: TelePoem Booth creator, Elizabeth Hellstern, listens to a recorded poem.