Dubuque phone booth offers a direct line to poetry | Iowa News
By ELIZABETH KELSEY, Telegraph Herald
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) – A bright blue phone booth recently appeared in the Millwork district of Dubuque – but those who visit it cannot make an emergency call.
The structure, located in the covered alley connecting East 10th and East 11th streets, is a telepoem booth. People can look up the cabin directory, dial a number on the old-fashioned rotary phone, and hear a poem read aloud.
Local arts group Voices Productions partnered with Humanities Iowa to bring the booth to Dubuque for a one-year stay.
âI envision the Telepoem Booth as an art installation, a combination of abandoned functional architecture and art,â said Sam Mulgrew, director of Voices Productions.
The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports that the first Telepoem Booth was installed in Mesa, Arizona, in March 2016. There are currently five booths in four states, with locations in Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM; Bisbee, Arizona; State College, Pennsylvania; and now, Dubuque.
The Iowa Telepoem Booth was previously stationed at Council Bluffs before heading to Dubuque. Her repertoire is almost entirely made up of poets from Iowa, including Bellevue writer Julianne Couch.
Couch can be heard in the Telepoem Booth performing her song “What Brings Youse to Bellevue, Then”, which she wrote as a newcomer to Bellevue about 10 years ago.
She hopes the Telepoem Booth encourages others to become artists too.
âA lot of people write poetry, but maybe they don’t see themselves as published poets,â she said. âWhen there are things like the Telepoem Project and other types of public art, people say, ‘Yes, I can do that.’ We are not only the audience for it, we can also be the creators, as a community. “
Keith Lesmeister, a Decorah resident who teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College, also has a poem featured in the booth.
He said the accessibility of the Telepoem Booth – it’s open to the public for free, 24 hours a day – can facilitate connections between writers and listeners.
âYou don’t need to have a subscription; you don’t have to pay to see or read, âhe said. “I think it’s a wonderful way to connect the general population with poetry and creative writing.”
Mulgrew also requested permission from the booth creators to add more poems by local poets to the booth’s repertoire.
âWe hope to populate the phone with Dubuque poets soon,â he said. “I think it would add an interesting local appeal.”
According to Mulgrew, the Telepoem Booth is the first step in a larger poetry initiative that Voices Productions hopes to unveil in the coming years. This could include street performances by âworld-class slam poetsâ and public presentations by local writers.
âVoices (Productions) is interested in all forms of artistic expression, and what could be more expressive than poetry? Mulgrew said. âOur main interest is to try to bring poetry to the streets to make it accessible to everyone.
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