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John Giorno behind the scenes of Dial-A-Poem, MoMA (1970)
Photo Gianfranco Mantegna, via Instagram/@giornofoundation

Artist and poet John Giorno’s iconic Dial-A-Poem project arrives in the UK

Callers can dial in to hear work by Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, William Burroughs, Debbie Harry, and many more

Dial-A-Poem, the seminal project from the New York artist and poet John Giorno, has officially arrived in the UK, alongside a new London exhibition. First launched in 1968 after a conversation with William Burroughs, the ongoing project allows callers to access an archive of poetry and political tracts by dialing in from their own phone.

The new, UK version of the phone service comes alongside an exhibition of the late artist’s works at London’s Almine Rech gallery, which features two collections of visual art titled Rainbow (2015) and Perfect Flowers (2017). 

Previously, the long-running Dial-A-Poem service could be found via a US phone number — which provided a delightful distraction in lieu of IRL art shows during lockdown, if you were willing to pay the international calling charges — but has now been extended to a UK phone number, free of charge to local callers (see below).

Access was developed alongside the New York-based John Giorno Foundation, with the foundation’s director, Elizabeth Dee, telling the Art Newspaper: “Initially it was a challenge. We’ve had to-recode all of the files.” She adds: “The plan is for the phone line to be active long term. John was always at the forefront of technology.”

Texts currently broadcasted via Dial-A-Poem include poems by Patti Smith, John Ashbery, John Cage, Philip Glass, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The phone line has also offered readings that advocate for civil rights or oppose the Vietnam War.

“Those texts and poems are of the time (i.e., the 1960s) but we’d like to work with other foundations to bring the concept forward,” Dee explains. One such foundation is Mexico’s Casa Wabi, which has plans to launch Dial-a-Poem in the country in collaboration with the John Giorno Foundation. In this case, Dee adds: “We’ll invite indigenous artists, poets and musicians to contribute to the concept.”

John Giorno’s work, including the phone project, is on show at Almine Rech until November 13. The UK iteration of Dial-A-Poem can be accessed by calling: +44 20 4538 8429. Over the course of this week, NTS Radio has also aired a series of spoken word pieces from the project, from David Byrne, Charles Bukowski, Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson, and more.