We commissioned 18 international award-winning writers to produce new poems for our Dial-a-Poem project on the theme of ‘calling’. Here, you can read about them and extracts of their response to our call.
The Dial-a-Poem mobile app will be available soon.
Claudia Berrueto is from Saltillo, in Coahuila, the north of Mexico. She is a fellow of the Foundation for Mexican Literature (2005-2006), and National Fund for Culture and Arts, (2009-2010/2011-2012). Her collection, Polvo doméstico, won the national prize of poetry in Tijuana in 2009, and her latest collection, Sesgo, won the Iberoamerican Prize Fine Arts of the Poetry Carlos Pellicer in 2016. Claudia is currently editorial coordinator of Dissemination and Cultural Heritage at the Autonomous University of Coahuila.
“For me old rotary phones are an emblem of both difficulty and beauty because my parents restricted their use for my brothers and I with a padlock. Not long ago I stole two from the garbage in the streets of my city and they have a very important place in my home. While writing ‘animales de la distancia’ I always thought of the rotary phone. … The idea that someone stops in a telephone booth to listen to a poem from an unknown person is an extraordinary act.”
Read the full interview with Claudia here.
Rachael Boast is a British poet and author of three collections, Sidereal, Pilgrim’s Flower, and most recently, Void Studies, which are published by Picador. She is co-editor of The Echoing Gallery: Bristol Poets and Art in the City (Redcliffe Press, 2013), and The Caught Habits of Language: An Entertainment for W.S. Graham for Him Having Reached One Hundred (Donut Press, 2018). She lives in Bristol.
“Isn’t poetry partly about being extremely present in the world, and in what we say? Give me one of those corded rotary dial phones! Give me slowness! My interest in telephones of all kinds as mediums for an exchange and as rich territory for correspondences increased [during this project]. The common ground between poems and telephones is that both are about making connections, about where the lines break or where they don’t break, and looking for some kind of receptivity or reception. ‘External Line’ is the record of an imagined telephone call framed around the notion that the ‘I’ of the poem is addressing an ‘other’ via a special number. Perhaps, in a way, that ‘other’ is present in the poem not by speaking but by listening. This is retrospective analysis on my part. There’s room enough for many interpretations, and leaving things open is part of the call.”
Read the full interview with Rachael here.
Photo credit: Jonathan Boast
Vahni Capildeo is a Trinidadian Scottish writer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. They are Writer in Residence at the University of York, and a Poetry Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. Their interests range from poetry to non-fiction to immersive theatre. Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet, 2016) was awarded the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. Current projects include the multimedia ‘Active Silence’ at York, and http://www.lightsitepoetry.com, a collaboration with Trinidadian artist Andre Bagoo which accompanies Capildeo’s most recent work, Light Site (Periplum, forthcoming 2020).
“The thing about living a few hundred or a few thousand miles away from people who feel ‘close’ is that sometimes the hiss and crackle of dust in the handset, the faint twangling of a crossed line, or the unmuted chatter of an operator, accompany the most urgent words. Death, for example, not just as an announcement, but the voice of the dying, can make itself heard this way, the voice on the line shadowing the voice in and from heart and heart.”
Read the full interview with Vahni here.
Photo credit: Hayley Madden
Amy Sara Carroll
Amy Sara Carroll’s books include Secession (Hyperbole Books, an imprint of San Diego State University Press, 2012), Fannie + Freddie / The Sentimentality of Post-9/11 Pornography (Fordham University Press, 2013), chosen by Claudia Rankine for the 2012 Poets Out Loud Prize, and Remex: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era (University of Texas Press, 2017). Since 2008, she has been a member of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, coproducing the Transborder Immigrant Tool which has been included in numerous art exhibitions, including the 2010 California Biennial. Currently, she teaches literature and creative writing at The New School in New York City. In Autumn 2020, she’ll join the Literature Department at the University of California, San Diego.
“The question of the visual and sonic reproducibility of my Crossed Lines contribution was never far from my mind when writing and designing the poem. In my practice, I have long toggled between the prose poem and visual/concrete poetry. […] I visualised the long table – a rectangle marked by the ‘x’ of ‘crossed lines’ that occupies the poem’s centre – as also conjuring a red telephone booth and Giorno graphics. Still, I wondered, would the visual disturbance of the poem be reproducible on a mobile app? (Accurately sounding its presence seemed out/side of the question.) I concluded that my design would have to be abstract enough to absorb its own scaling up and down. When performing, I usually read quickly, but I recognized that phone listeners might not appreciate recorded acceleration. In the eleventh hour, my own body emerged as an unlikely poetic constraint. A week and a half before the audio files were due, my son and I came down with the flu. If you listen closely, you can hear the effect in my voice and the poem’s pace.”
Read the full interview with Amy here.
Rishi Dastidar was educated at Mansfield College, Oxford University and the London School of Economics. His poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as a chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection Ticker-tape was published by Nine Arches Press in 2018.
“That poetry has seemed so perfect a way to celebrate telephony has made me think that phoning people really is going the way of the dodo. And of course while intellectually I know that older medias never die, are just displaced, there’s something about it being poetry to think about phones that means that the cutting edge of progress has moved somewhere else…. This isn’t a bad thing of course; but it’s made me realise that even neophiliacs (which I think of myself as) get old. But the process has also revealed that poetry is a great – the best? – medium for telling alternative histories of ideas, objects and technologies – impressions are often the best way to get to the lived truth that we know but struggle to say.”
Read the interview with Rishi here.
Bruno Galluccio was born in Naples, where he still lives. He graduated in Physics and worked in a technology company where he handled telecommunications and spatial systems. His first poetry book was Verticali (Einaudi 2009), which was followed by La misura dello zero (Einaudi 2015). He coordinates one of the leading poetry reading programmes in Italy at the Café Il Temo del Vino e Delle Rose in Naples.
“I am a physicist who has worked for many years on the design of traditional and satellite-based communication systems. I was attracted by the touch of magic provided by the image of the human voice that goes beyond the bounds of the atmosphere then falls back down to earth.”
Read the full interview with Bruno here.
Lisa Kelly is a poet and technology journalist. She has single-sided deafness from childhood mumps and is now learning British Sign Language. She is also half Danish. In 2019, she took part in Poetry International at the Southbank, d/Deaf Republic: Poets on d/Deafness. She is Chair of Magma Poetry and co-edited the Conversation issue and the Deaf issue. Her first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, was published by Carcanet in 2019. Her poems have appeared in Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) and Carcanet’s New Poetries VII. Her pamphlets are Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) and Bloodhound (Hearing Eye). She sometimes hosts poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House in London, and leads workshops on creative writing.
“It was through the telephone that I discovered I was deaf in my left ear following mumps as a child. It was not spotted by adults or teachers except there was a perception I was rude or stupid. However, it was through playing with a rotary phone and holding the receiver alternatively to my left ear and my right ear that I realised the difference or ‘phenomenon’ as I saw it. I did not realise it was deafness, but thought it was ‘magic’. This feeling of otherworldliness is what I also found fascinating about Thomas A. Watson’s experience with early telephone experiments and his description of static currents. These two ‘histories’ directly inform the poem [for this project] in their interweaving and asynchronous conversation.”
Read the full interview with Lisa here.
Raquel Lanseros is a poet, translator, anthologist and professor from Spain. She is one of the most awarded and recognised voices of contemporary poetry in Spanish. Her collections include Legends from the promontory, Diary of a gleam, The eyes of the mist, Croniria, Small thorns are small (one of the bestselling poetry collections in Spain in 2014), and, most recently, Matria, which was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in Spain in 2019. Widely translated, her writing has been published in France, the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal and Puerto Rico. She is widely regarded as the most relevant Spanish-language female poet born after 1970.
“The telephone has played an important role in my life, as it has in all those of my generation. We have grown up with the possibility of hearing voices from afar, so the physical absence has not always meant a lack of presence. [… But] in the weeks during which I was writing the poem, I learned of the death of a good friend. I had been texting unanswered messages to him for a while and I was worried. The outcome affected me so much that it became the trigger for the poem.”
Read the full interview with Raquel here.
Janet McAdams is the first Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry at Kenyon College, USA. She teaches courses in creative writing and Indigenous American literature. Her books include The Island of Lost Luggage (University of Arizona Press, 2000), which won the American Book Award, Feral (Salt Modern Poets, 2007), Red Weather (University of Arizona, 2012) and a chapbook of prose poems, Seven Boxes for the Country After (Kent State University Press, 2016). With Geary Hobson and Kathryn Walkiewicz, she edited the anthology The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing after Removal (University of Oklahoma, 2009).
“I’ve always, since an early age, been a bit of a phone junkie. I think it’s a particular sort of introversion, a way the self can travel while leaving the body behind for a while. I am old enough to have grown up in a house with a single landline, and I used to get in trouble for dominating the phone. That said, I am still resistant to carrying a phone around with me all the time. Certainly a subtext for me in writing the poem [for this project] was the ways spatial and temporal realms line up or collide. In the poem, it’s the phone that’s fixed, the spatial that’s stable, and the temporal that’s anything but linear. Instead, it’s layered, circular, disrupted almost to the point of chaos.”
Read the full interview with Janet here.
Photo credit: Emily Ellis
Andrew McMillan’s first collection, physical, was the only poetry collection to ever win the Guardian First Book Award; it also won a Somerset Maugham Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. It was shortlisted for numerous others including the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. It was recently voted one of the favourite 25 poetry books of the last 25 years by the Booksellers Association. His second collection, playtime, won the inaugural Polari Prize. He is a senior lecturer in the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“As someone who travels a lot for work, and is often on the last train home from somewhere, I think of the phone as a lifeline to the outside world when I’m stranded on stations or in the soup of a delay.”
Read the full interview with Andrew here.
Photo credit: Urszula Soltys
Abi Palmer is an artist and writer exploring the relationship between linguistic and physical communication. Her work often touches on themes of disability, queerness, and multisensory innovation. Crip Casino – her interactive gambling arcade parodying the wellness industry and institutionalised spaces – has been displayed at the Tate Modern and Somerset House. She won a Saboteur award for her multisensory poetry experiment Alchemy in 2016. Her debut book Sanatorium (Penned in the Margins) is a fragmented memoir that explores the body in chronic pain, jumping between a luxury thermal spa and an £80 inflatable bathtub.
“At the moment, my mobile phone is a huge source of access to the world – I do everything from it! I have very severe chronic hand pain and recently used my phone to write an entire book, jumping between the touchscreen and the audio recording device. I also use my mobile phone as a huge source of friendship. Even before a global pandemic, I was not able to leave the house as much as I would like to. Much of the disabled/chronically ill community are in a similar situation. Over the years I’ve developed very significant relationships with a series of queer disabled artists via social media. Because of our fluctuating energies and different time zones, we often communicate via voice notes on WhatsApp. This feels like a really intimate way to learn a person.”
Read the full interview with Abi here.
Anita Pati was born and grew up in an English northern seaside town. She now lives in London where she has worked variously as a library assistant and a journalist. She has been a Jerwood/Arvon mentee, one of the Poetry Trust’s Aldeburgh 8, won the Wasafiri New Writing Prize and was a winner of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize. Her debut pamphlet Dodo Provocateur (2019) won The Rialto’s second Open Pamphlet Competition.
“In the ’80s/early ’90s, landlines were still the main mode of communication. You called friends and spoke to their mums or brothers first before they’d call them down from a bedroom skulk. It was a social activity, calling someone. So social that I used a ‘party line’ as a precursor to chat rooms or WhatsApp groups where you’d ring an extortionate communal number and speak to a bevvy of fellow lonely, desperate teenagers, in my case, scousers. I learned such a lot from those lines, not least the mouth-watering premium call cost which forced my dad to physically disconnect the phone when they went out. It’s this role of the phone in combatting social isolation that my poem ‘Routed’ plugs in to.”
Read the full interview with Anita here.
Vidyan Ravinthiran was born in Leeds, to Sri Lankin Tamils. His first book of poems, Grun-tu-molani (Bloodaxe, 2014), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Seamus Heaney Poetry Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. His second collection, The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here (Bloodaxe, 2019) won a Northern Writers Award and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection and for the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize. He is also the author of Elizabeth Bishop’s Prosaic (Bucknell 2015), winner of both the University English Prize and the Warren-Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism. In January 2020 he moved to the US to teach at Harvard University.
“I’ve realised something about my extended family – part of the Tamil diaspora which fled Sri Lanka, and settled all over the globe – we act as if to video-call each other is the same as actually being together. My cousin and uncle, for instance, will leave the camera running, not really talking to each other but simply as a kind of window or portal connecting a sitting room in Nova Scotia with another in Colombo.
My family has just moved to the US, and we’re trying to make this magic trick work for us, but it’s difficult when I video-call my parents, and the screen freezes, reminding us of the distance between us. The immensity of the Atlantic. And our son, Frank, who is 8 months old, doesn’t really understand. His grandparents can talk to him but he doesn’t respond to them as he would face-to-face. Which is hard on everybody.”
Read the full interview with Vidyan here.
Denise Saul was born in London. She is a poet and fiction writer. Her White Narcissi (published by Flipped Eye Publishing), was Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for Autumn 2007. Denise’s poetry has been published in a variety of US and UK magazines and anthologies. In 2008 she was selected for The Complete Works, a two-year mentoring and development programme for ten advanced black and Asian poets in the UK. Denise is the winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize for her poem ‘Leaving Abyssinia’. Her House of Blue (published by Rack Press) was Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Recommendation for Summer 2012.
“My late mother who is the subject of my poem, could not use a telephone after experiencing a stroke in 2010. This project allowed me to consider the relationship between speech dysfluency and technology. I thought about my mother’s inability to make herself heard over the telephone (how a device for transmitting voices over a long distance could not transmit my mother’s aphasic disturbances or voice).”
Read the full interview with Denise here.
Nick Sturm is a Marion L. Brittain postdoctoral fellow in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His poems and essays have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Jacket2, PEN, Black Warrior Review, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. His scholarly and archival work can be traced at the blog Crystal Set and he co-hosts and produces The Office Hour podcast.
“Being constantly on my phone in various ways means these objects and ways of looking end up being ubiquitous in my poems. I’m not sure I believe a book of poems that doesn’t have a reference to a cell phone in it. My longer poems increasingly pull in screenshots from my phone, from Twitter, and make those visual mediums part of the page in kind of nonfiction-archival gesture. This poem, which is in a mode I’m moving away from, suggests the ways our technologies, including their regular displacement, intersect with our daily choices to make the world stranger, more unsettling. We have so many clichés about access to information via devices. But someone like Giorno recognized how ease of access can facilitate experiences that are aesthetically transformative. Once you’re on the line, things get weird.”
Read the full interview with Nick here.
Chrissy Williams is a poet, editor and tutor based in London. Her work has been featured on BBC radio and television, and her first collection BEAR (Bloodaxe, 2017) was one of the Telegraph’s 50 Best Books of the Year. She is editor of the online journal PERVERSE.
“We are more connected to each other than ever, with mobile phones providing calls and internet, endless apps, myriad ways of linking people together. We feel closer to each other, but simultaneously more cut off – the little black slab in our hands is either alive or dead, our connection to the outside world either active or non-existent. We hold the telephone instead of each other. We yearn for this technological go-between in ever increasing ways. There’s a sort of nostalgia to the public telephone, as so many people have their own mobile phone. However there is also the sense that a public telephone is the last lifeline for those who have no other means of making calls. The fact that this poem would be delivered by public telephone felt significant, and I knew the poem fundamentally had to be about communication. I knew the poem would be recorded, and recorded phone messages are in themselves something we are all very familiar with. I wondered if I could try to humanise the idea of the hold message, and started to wonder how it would be if hold messages themselves had the same sort of yearning for connection that we do.”
Photo credit: Katie West
Lyuba Yakimchuk is a Ukrainian poet, screenwriter, and journalist. She is the author of several full-length poetry collections, including Like FASHION and Apricots of Donbas, and the film script for The Building of the Word. Yakimchuk’s awards include the International Slavic Poetic Award and the international ‘Coronation of the Word’ literary contest. She performs in a musical and poetic duet with the Ukrainian double-bass player Mark Tokar, and her poetry has been performed by Mariana Sadovska (Cologne) and improvised by vocalist Olesya Zdorovetska (Dublin). In 2015 Kiev’s New Time magazine listed Yakimchuk among the one hundred most influential people of culture in Ukraine.
“I grew up in a mining village in Donbas. Only a few households in our village had landline phones. My father worked as a foreman at the mine, so his employer provided him with the means of communication. Because there was only one landline phone for every dozen of households, the neighbours regularly came to us asking to use it. Most of the time, they would call with some bad news. They’d call the ambulance, the police, and other people to notify of someone’s death. […] I’m telling you this because for me a landline phone has always been connected to some turbulent events.”
Read the full interview with Lyuba here.
Photo credit: Valentyn Kuzan
Ather Zia is a political anthropologist, poet, and short fiction writer. She teaches at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. She is the author of Resisting Disappearances: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir (University of Washington Press, 2019) and co-editor of Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and A Desolation called Peace: Voices from Kashmir (HarperCollins, 2019). She has published a poetry collection The Frame (J&K Cultural Academy of Arts and Languages, 1999) and another collection is forthcoming. Her ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.
“When I was living in Kashmir, the Indian government had made our relationship with most forms of communication including phones very tenuous and unpredictable. The service could be banned any moment by the government. As a Kashmiri who who now lives outside, a phone is a vital connection to my homeland but since communication including phone and internet are often banned, a sense of precarity exists. A phone is not a given for a Kashmiri.”
Read the full interview with Ather here.