Tag Archives: State College PA

167 Poems to Dial Up

Last night, April 14, 2017 there was a groundbreaking event in our small town –the second of its nature in the United States: The grand opening of Telepoem Booth State College, Central Pennsylvania. And the poetry art scene at large owes the expansion of its presence in this exceptional form to the 2017 Viola Award Winner, artist and writer, Elizabeth Hellstern. If you are in the area –downtown State College, that is, stop by Webster’s Bookstore Café. Then simply walk down its stairs, look ahead once on ground level, and be greeted by this public art piece right across the entrance.

In an article, featured in the April 2017 issue of State College Magazine, Steven Deutsch–a local poet and freelance writer and one of the members of The Telepoem Selection Committee offers valuable insight into this “new public art installation” (“Dialing Up Poetry”, 32):

[Quote Start] The Telepoem Booth is a repurposed 1970s rotary dial telephone booth, developed, refurbished, and sent to us by artist and writer Elizabeth Hellstern. When you dial a number, you are connected through a computer to a catalogue of poems, nearly all recorded by the individual poets.

The first Telepoem Booth was showcased at the Festival of Creativity in Mesa, Arizona, in 2016. One currently resides in Flagstaff. Old phone booths have been repurposed as libraries and aquariums in the past, but the conversion to a poem booth is unique to Hellstern. She writes of the idea:

[Sub-quote Start] ‘In the arts we focus on vision, but I’m especially fascinated by touch. To me, touch is a very powerful and intimate sense that requires a one-on-one interaction, unlike sight or sound. It is the first sense. When I was a curator, I began judging beauty by touch as well as sight and I started to explore the concept of haptic experience. As a writer, I pondered the idea of bringing multi-sensory engagement to word. What is the word of art? How can I make words have materiality of object? How can I bring words off the page?

I want words to interact with an audience in a way that is visual and kinesthetic. I want them to feel more intimate and require engagement of the senses. I thought about the forms and objects that have historically helped people to connect to others, forms that were created for moments of intimacy: pay phones and poetry. Combined, these two forms create a whole new experience – the Telepoem Booth’ [Sub-quote End] (Deutsch, 33). [Quote End]

John Ziegler is another name that everyone aware of this newly erected art of ‘touchable’ poetry in State College should know. Inspired by his accidental discovery of the Telepoem Booth in Flagstaff, this local poet together with Hellstern initiated the installation of one in our town.

The Telepoem Selection Committee –consisting also of local poets, judged 327 poems submitted by 86 poets for inclusion in the initial round, as quoted by the TSC chair Sarah Russell in her congratulatory email to those whose submissions were accepted. Deutsch writes the final outcome in the same article cited previously:

[Quote Start] 167 poems by 75 poets were accepted. […] While many of the poets are from the Centre Region, poetry from as far away as Australia is included. For the most part, the individual poets have recorded their poems, so that the voice the listener hears upon dialing up a specific poem will be that of the poet (35). [Quote End]

Today, I feel gratified that two of my poems are among the 167 to dial up and to listen to. The Telepoem Book inside the booth offers a no-nonsense assistance. Poets and poems appear in that directory with their last names under two headings: “Telepoets” and “Genres”, spanning over nineteen genres. I am one of the ‘Telepoets’ whose own voices are heard once the dial-up is complete.

Elizabeth Hellstern: Video (top left) and still picture (top second left)
John Ziegler: Still picture (top center)
[Photo Credit: Self]


Filed under Poetry, Reflections

Supporting the Written Art and Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, PA

[CAUTION: An unedited text lies ahead of you…]


I find the back entrance, park my car where the gate opening gadget used to be, leave the flashers on and unload what I had packed from the night before. Confident that I have thought of everything. I raise my head from my carry-on luggage piece and … am tempted to go right back into my cute red: under the huge tent, every table looks decorated as if touched by a long-time stager, with eye-catching presentation materials everywhere. I pass by the line of tables in slow motion, looking right, looking left, not sure where I am supposed to be heading. Someone who hasn’t skipped a beat to notice who knows what my face looked like, asks me whether I am ____ ( a name other than mine), before I get a chance to answer, a friendly voice rises from the area that I now left behind me: “You are with me!” Her demeanor matches the friendliness of her vocal cords…I make a legal U-turn and am at my table section. She and I will be sharing a table. She has already set up her side, as have anyone whom I can spot from where I am standing. Every time I use the phrase “set up”, please replace it with “donning grandiose details and special effects.” Yes, we have all received the same timely and kind tip as to what to display on our tables. It is obvious: I am the only one who disregarded those well-meant suggestions….Shaking my initial surprised look, I put all that I brought with me on my side of the four-legged multi-purpose platform. “All that” doesn’t amount to much…I see…and can’t deny anymore: I’m ill-prepared. I have only copies of my book and business cards. If it hadn’t been for my dear publisher’s recommendation – my book’s cover as a blown-up poster, stoppers-by or intentional visitors would have easily dismissed me along with those beautiful print products I have my name on. I am petite as it is…

After my initial culture shock wears off (it is my first entry to this part of our world), my two neighboring authors and I start chatting before the crowd comes in: they are both delightful and comforting! It is taking me a while but I begin to stop worrying about what I don’t have with or on me for the potential visitors to my side (such as those attention-getting giveaways, colorful decorations, and prizes all around me). These two beautiful women take me away from my short-lived worries thanks to their calm and calming personalities and their voluntary talks on the genres they specialize in. I learn new things from them also about their experiences in the writing arena. We agree it is a long-time fasting lion-to-unarmed bare-footed-weeks-long-trekking-newborn-place out there. We commiserate – about the state of the various literary genres in our century and how we are subjected to a distinct level of degeneration in the overall interest of the readers (it just wouldn’t do, if we didn’t!) But then we laugh, hard; comment about our expectations for our books’ sales of today – a beautiful day (no storms, not even a mist of rain), critique and analyze ourselves, our passions for writing, and laugh again – best of all, we celebrate. The opportunities we have in our hands; our understanding of and support for one another. Other authors approach our tables and we all communicate, as if we had known one another for our entire lives. At least from my end, this experience is a true pleasure and gives itself in full submission to us as a most memorable time. What display items? What more do I need, I ask myself while no one is looking…

A short while later, my friends arrive and surround me with their “pride” talks directed at “my” event, taking pictures I could not have taken on my own to mark this special occasion in my life (nor would have asked someone else to do). Once again, I laugh – from the core of my being, we hug and (content with how I have been managing myself), they leave to see the rest of the Arts Festival tents and booths. In the early afternoon, another dear friend of mine comes over – despite the fact that she has so much on her tray these days. Finally, my One and Only – my daughter/only child, walks into the tent, pushing my grandson’s stroller, completing my understanding of perfection…

On my way back to my car, my steps feel on water, gliding me away – although I am exhausted from a day quite unusual in its length, intensity and activities. Why my dance-like one-foot-in front of-the other-attitude? For this BookFest hasn’t been about selling books at all! It was rather about exchanging positive energy between people who happen to be readers of this or that genre, making time to meet other people who happen to be writers of such or the other genre. All of whom were ready and willing to connect to one another over one area of their lives, asking and answering questions and laughing together. It was about authentic interaction between people. Period.

My first BookFest.Tek Başıma.July 12.2014

May your Sunday and your new week become a memorable delight for you.




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Filed under Reflections

Via cell phones: State College, PA – Lagos, Nigeria

When Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, the author of The Light Bearer (also available in the U.S.) asked me, if I could attend an event of high significance for him, namely his debut introduction to his readers in Nigeria, I was eager to do so. While I couldn’t be there physically, our cellphones managed to enable us a bridge between the continents. My words of endorsement of his poetry appear below, in the form and content I compiled them within a short amount of time that I had (not due to Kolade’s negligence but rather our time zone difference but also my heavy work schedule). I hope my enthusiasm will be well-served so that you may be interested in informing yourselves with this poet of rare talent who happens to be very young but his life  view and lyrical analysis of life issues exceed many heavily aged individual’s capacity. Please read my text picturing my actual presence there in the gathering room for his event, addressing his audience before he begins his book reading.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A rare talent in composing poetry but also in raising awareness for world issues that matter against the backlash of pitifully mundane ados – perhaps the youngest peace ambassador.

This is hülya yılmaz from State College, Pennsylvania-USA. A warm hello to Lagos State, Nigeria. I feel privileged to be one of the guests at your unique event today in honor of Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom. Knowing Mr. Olanrewaju has been a privilege all by itself. There must be many who are eager to talk about his poetry, so I shall keep my comments on his rarely found poetic work brief. I allow myself to judge as such based on my extensive university career in teaching literature in all its various genres. There is a quote on poetry I am particularly fond of, and it is by the American poet and writer Charles Bukowski: “Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.” Kolade’s lyrical work demonstrates the materialization of the Bukowski conviction. Mr. Olanrewaju’s poetic voice demands attention.   For its clarity, genuine spirit, innovative and creative symbolic imagery, engaging diction and for its musical composition at the same time. There are many, just too many poems in his first book, The Light Bearer, that I could refer to and comment on and on. But, as I noted before, I am not the only one at this literary gathering who wants to shout out to all attending as loudly as I can what the significance of this unbelievably young but incredibly matured poetic genius. I will mention the titles of a few, almost all from about the middle section of The Light Bearer. While I do so, I want to hope that there will be time enough for someone to read these poems aloud for everyone to hear – hopefully again and again. One of them treasures his book on its earlier pages, “My Tongue My Culture”; the others, more toward the mid-section: “Doves in the Sky”, “The Pillars of Peace”, “Let Me Speak My Scars” and later in this notable book, “Beautiful Petals”. Obviously, I can’t and won’t manipulate the time allotted for your event, and will, therefore, only give you a poem by Kolade through which I got to meet him. I will always cherish that time.WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BUY PEACE?


I sit on a mammoth mountain


Holding the map of a nation


Stare at map with fondness


While I savour the smell of peace


But mood wouldn’t be retained for long;


Map suddenly bleeds


Blood flows like the Red Sea


Children’s tears deafen my ears


Adults wail in agony


Brutality and cruelty kill without ceasing.



Peace is sick in Syria


Should we call violence to treat?


Love is jailed in Syria


Should we employ hatred to defend?


Humanity is assaulted in Syria


Should we call inhumanity to Judge?


Death is thief in Syria


Should we call Deaths to arrest?



War is a whore


It seduces death to be its lover


While being engaged to catastrophe.



Confusion parties within me


Violence must halt


But certainty of identity

of the STOPPER

eludes me


How can peace be so costly


When all we need to purchase is love?


An example of what he offers in the face of the prominent tribal mentality among the world leaders at large, isn’t it?

I promise, these will be my last words (for this event) – words that Kolade Olanerwaju’s poetic power practically gave me the insight to write about his book: Is creative writing a learning objective or an innate quality, constitutes an age-old question. With Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, the answer is multi-faceted, as his poetry eases the reader to a phenomenon of rare talent and impeccable ability in self-teaching. No ordinary evaluation criteria will do. [My own words from The Light Bearer] Thank you all for listening, Thank you, dearest Kolade, for mediating my words through what I am sure to be an utmost lovely reading voice. Continued success to you, dear young friend!


Filed under Reflections