Interview with Nick Sturm

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?

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.

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 started with the idea of losing my phone and then following those first lines into a place where things keep transforming and being added, undoing themselves. I like a short poem that animates a set of so-called characters. There’s a little absurd play-like quality to the second section of the poem. In shorter poems I often end up at a real sense of displacement and dread where the poem is hovering near some small joys that may or may not be what they seem, that tracks with where we are.

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 wanted to have different “voices” – not exactly polyphonic but layers of talk, so that there’d hopefully be a kind of metacognitive thing happening in the listening, especially in the phone booth. I’d like to spend an afternoon in that booth. The juxtapositions between the poems and what’s outside the listening space would be fabulous to see. And it’d be different every day. It’s like this massive Sol Lewitt wall drawing we have at the High Museum here in Atlanta. It’s a three-story tall set of six square panels with large gaps between each panel. The panels loom over this large atrium, so from whatever angle you look, there’s always people moving behind the panels on various floors. The spaces between the panels where people are walking and where you can see other art on the walls – really the entire atrium environment with the light coming in through the geometric designs in the glass ­– it’s all part of the Lewitt, which disturbs the distinctions between decoration, architecture and painting. That’s how I imagine the new Dial-a-Poem booth. The poems are an instigating sound in a larger aesthetic environment.

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?

It encourages me to keep including in my poems the visual material from my phone and the ways I use it to be attentive. This poem also fantasizes a bit about the temporary liberation of being “outside” without a poem, so it makes me think I should actually do that soon, to get yachtish.

Are there any other reflections you can make about the process of producing the poem, or your participation in the project?

I’m thrilled this project is taking place. I teach New York School poetry and visual art at the Georgia Institute of Technology, so my students and are I really interested in the intersections between technology and aesthetic production. My students call Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem to experience these voices suddenly speaking to us (an ideal way to encourage students to recognize that I’m not being hyperbolic when I say poetry is a conversation between the dead and the living). These intersections often lead to amazing student-led research. My student Kevin Quayle recently made this incredible digital humanities project, ‘The Sound of Giorno’, that includes an interactive visualization showing all of the contributors to Dial-a-Poem in all of its iterations. Long live Dial-a-Poem!