telepoem booth

The original Telepoem Booth located in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Poetry enthusiasts will soon find a new place to fulfill their creative desires with the installation of a Telepoem Booth in downtown State College.

Set to open this spring, the Telepoem Booth is an interactive arts exhibition that merges old-fashioned rotary phone technology with various types of poetry, John Ziegler, one of the directors of the project, said.

The phone booth will allow visitors to look through its directory and use the rotary phone to dial a poem of their choosing, which is then read to them via a pre-recorded voice.

“It’ll bring poetry into people’s lives,” Ziegler said. “Hopefully, it’ll be a cross-section of poets across the community and across age groups.”

The Telepoem Booth will feature a mix of poems in the public domain — from widely-read poets such as Robert Frost and Mary Oliver — along with the work of local poets, Ziegler said. An exact location for the phone booth has not yet been determined, but he said Fraser Street and Allen Street are both under consideration.

Ziegler, a State College resident and retired art teacher, said he discovered the original Telepoem Booth in Flagstaff, Azrizona while visiting his son, and decided to bring the idea over to State College. With the help of a grant from the Knight Foundation Donor-Advised Fund at Centre Foundation, the project is set to open downtown — its first-ever location outside of Flagstaff.

“It’s a great piece of whimsy, and a piece of nostalgia,” Sarah Russell, a member of the project’s editing committee, said. “We just don’t see telephone booths anymore. And to turn it into something this creative has so much potential for inspiration, for fun and for just browsing … we’re hoping to make poetry very accessible to the community.”

The first round of poetry submissions is due Jan. 1 using an online form which can be found on the project’s Facebook page. All community members, from grade-schoolers to retirees, are open to submit up to five of their poems, Ziegler said. Submissions will receive a response in February.

According to a Centre Foundation press release, each poem must be no longer than 40 lines and can be a previously published poem, with credit given to the original publisher. While any topic is encouraged, poems with sexually graphic or hateful content will not be considered.

Russell said she anticipates nearly 100 poems from locals will be included in the booth by the time it opens. Those whose poems are selected will be allowed to record their poems using their own voices.

“Poetry gets a bad rap for being too high-toned and not being able to be understood,” Russell said. “And what we are aiming for is poetry that can be enjoyed by the entire community.”

Together, Russell, Ziegler and three other local poets comprise the editing committee for the project. Russell said she hopes the booth will open in April to coincide with National Poetry Month.

“We’re just really excited for this project — [Ziegler’s] team is rolling it out and making it possible,” Irene Miller, development and events coordinator for Centre Foundation, said. “I think it’s going to bring new energy downtown and let people who are or aren’t poetry enthusiasts enjoy poetry in a different way.”

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Hyun Soo Lee is a community and borough reporter for The Daily Collegian. Follow him on Twitter at @hslee_ or email him at hxl217@psu.edu