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Dial 1 for Allen Ginsberg

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 1, 2013 10:38 AM

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For 25 years Peter Payack of Cambridge ran a popular underground arts project called “Phone-a-Poem.” The concept was simple, but also quirky and subtle, like the medium it celebrated. Payack would mail cassettes to poets along with a note asking if they might record themselves reading one of their poems. According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, nearly everyone agreed, including some of the biggest names of the time, like Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, and Donald Hall. Payack, who is a poet himself, would then place the recorded poems in an answering machine. Anyone could call in and listen and many did—Phone-a-Poem received thousands of calls every week.

Payack ran Phone-a-Poem from 1976-2001. Now his cassettes are archived at Harvard University, and this spring they’ve been featured in an exhibit at the Woodberry Poetry Room in Lamont Library that concludes today. If you don’t make it over there in time, you can listen to six of the recordings below.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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