Ring Ring Poetry, a new choose-your-own-adventure literary hotline

The first poem in the project, written by Sarar, takes a Choose Your Own Adventure style.
The first poem in the project, written by Sarar, takes a Choose Your Own Adventure style.
flier by Cole Sarar

Call 612.223.POEM, and you are greeted with Cole Sarar's voice. If you press "1," you can hear the project's latest poem, or press "2" to explore the archives. The first piece in that back catalog, "The Beast," offers further options: Thirty seconds in, the poem stops and asks you to choose again.

"Press '1' if the library door is locked," Sarar's recorded voice says over the phone. "Press '2' if the library door swings open easily."

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"The Beast," like the rest of the poems written for the recently-launched Ring Ring Poetry, is site-specific and interactive. Ten Twin Cities poets have joined Sarar to create original works for the project, which will release two new poems every week in May and June (that's four so far, and 16 total). The curious can only experience the poems one way: by calling in.

"I had this idea to place poetry in public spaces, and by doing so make poetry more accessible," Sarar explains. "And not only to change the way people listen to or think about poetry, but also to change the way people interact with their physical spaces."

The spark for that idea came from the Walker Art Center's 2011 installation Blast Theory: A Machine to See With. Participants were assigned a street corner in St. Anthony Main, and told to wait for a call to their cell phone. More calls, each with messages and directions to carry out, followed.

"That exhibit used phone technologies to kind of make a movie in your head," Sarar remembers. "It made me want to use those same technologies with local artists."

Sarar conceived of a project that would feature poems written about specific places throughout the Twin Cities. Callers would be encouraged to listen to the poem from that location, but could access the poems from anywhere with just a 10-digit dial. Some of the poems would be a straightforward reading; some would ask the caller to pick her own course.

To bring this poetry hotline to life, Sarar received a VERVE spoken word grant from Intermedia Arts, and started seeking poets from there. Coffee House Press got excited about the project, and four of the local publisher's poets -- Lightsey Darst, Sarah Fox, John Colburn, and Bao Phi -- signed on to write pieces. Rounding out the roster are Guante, Dobby Gibson, See More Perspective (Adam Gabriel Napoli-Rangel), Misty Rowan, Sam Cook, Kyra Calvert, and Sarar herself.

The four poems in the project so far offer meditations on sites ranging from the St. Paul Central Library and Mill Ruins Park to the train tracks at Como and 23rd Avenue and Lake of the Isles.

"The main thing is that I want it to be interactive," Sarar says. "I want to reach people in a new way."

For more information on Ring Ring Poetry, visit ringringpoetry.com or call 612.223.POEM.

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