Interview with Anita Pati

Could you reflect on your relationship to the telephone, in the past or in the present, and say something about how this might have informed your poem?

I remember telephones in many of their incarnations: rotary dial, push-button (both curly-wired); massive cordless. Fax also. I tend to assume a ‘telephone’ is a landline whereas what we carry in our pockets now is a ‘mobile’. I don’t really hear anyone say the ‘tele’ bit of ‘phone anymore, nor the ‘tele’ bit of ‘vision either. Although it’s that teleporting of voice and spirit we’re increasingly reliant upon. People take its magic for granted.

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. But also, sometimes, the alienation that its one-way nature can cause.

How did you go about producing the work for this project? Were there any materials, anecdotal, literary or otherwise, that proved generative for you?

I listened to Vahni Capildeo’s response to this project on Radio 3 and that helped nudge me into thinking. I researched a little into the concept of telephony but that was too dry an approach, so I looked at what it meant in my own situation, that of living at the top of a high-rise and how freeing and trapping that can feel. I also used phrases from different national anthems in the poem to gesture towards the celebratory and international nature of telephony. It was the first way we could talk to people all over the world.

How much was the recording of the poem, and the format(s) through which the poem will be reproduced (i.e. a public phone booth and mobile app), a consideration in the composition?

I’m very guided by the sonic in my writing so I liked the idea that this was to be recorded as it’s another way to receive the poem. I was intrigued by the sound of the public phone booth and mobile app and am very much looking forward to seeing how our poems will be sued. I’m also excited to hear the voices of others.

Do you have any thoughts on how the project might have affected the way that you think about the relationship between poetry and telephony, or between writing and technology more broadly?

Celebrating a telephony project that’s 50 years old gladdened me; there’s such a lot of emphasis on the young and visual in poetry that a re-working of this old medium was refreshing. Unlike the broadcast nature of social media, telephones deliver an intimate, private message through the rich human tool of the voice. In the same way, each poem received is a personal gift.

May 2020