“I don’t know. It just came out of the blue,” she said.
Hellstern, a Flagstaff writer, was riding along with her partner when she suddenly said to him, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people could go into a telephone booth, dial a number and hear a poem?”
Her partner, a sculptor, thought it was a great idea.
Grants from the Flagstaff Beautification and Public Art Commission and a few local
businesses were enough to get the project up and running.
“They thought it was a good idea too,” she said.
And the public loves the idea, with 221 poems dialed up in the first 24 hours of the service.
Free to the public, anyone can enter the poem booth, look up a poem or poet in the specially made Telepoem book, use the rotary phone and dial up a poem.
Most of the poets featured are local, working poets. There are some classic offerings like the work of T.S. Eliott, W.B. Yeats and Allen Ginsberg.
Hellstern said she was surprised to learn that Flagstaff is filled with closet poets who write secretly, but do not show their work to anyone.
She was pleasantly surprised when Flagstaff City Councilwoman Coral Evans showed up for the opening.
Evans is, in fact, a poet, says Hellstern.
There are 220 poems by 80 poets from which to choose. Most of them read their own work.
One of the corporate sponsors, Hadassah Ziegler of Rooftop Solar, loved the idea when she heard about it.
“This seemed like an idea with a lot of facets to it that were interesting with a kind of retro feel,” she said. “My nine-year-old daughter didn’t know what a phone booth was.”
Zeigler said she was happy to support the project that would bring joy to the community.
“People are thrilled to be able to do it,” Hellstern said. “I see on social media a constant stream of people listening to poetry and how much they enjoyed it. I have photos of children and young people. It’s gratifying to hear people talking about the project.”
Hellstern got the idea for the Telepoem in August and opened it in March.
“I am smitten with old technology.”
She searched Craigslist until the found a 1970s telephone booth that would serve her purpose.
Hellstern’s team on the project were David Earl Smith, who created the technology for the booth, Owen William Fritts, who applied solar panels which power the booth, Jeremy Slater, a solar panel expert and Brian Hoddy, the graphic designer and sign maker.
Other sponsors include NOAZ (Northern Arizona Signs), which made the signs for Telepoem booth.
The Telepoem booth currently is located at 16 S. Beaver Street and will remain there until the end of August.
“I want poetry to become a vital part of humanity again,” she said. “Poetry can help people become in touch with their emotions and be transformative. I think poetry is an abstract piece of literature to answer questions we didn’t know how to articulate.”
To learn more visit Telepoembooth.com or follow on facebook.
By Patty McCormac, FBN