Maya Angelou calls the Poetry Crisis Line

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, how may I help you?

CALLER: You may write me down in history

STAFFER: I’m sorry, ma’am, that’s not a service we offer. Have you tried the Library of Congress?

CALLER: With your bitter, twisted lies,

STAFFER: No, I said the Library of Congress.

CALLER: You may tread me in the very dirt

STAFFER: That’s also not a service we offer. You might try a dominatrix? Or a literary critic?

CALLER: But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

STAFFER: Like dust? Have you considered rising like bread? Bread rises.

CALLER: Does my sassiness upset you?

STAFFER: Not at all. But cakes rise. Maybe you could rise like cake?

CALLER: Why are you beset with gloom?

STAFFER: I’m not. But parfaits–no, parfaits don’t rise. But balloons do. Why not rise like a baloon?

CALLER: ‘Cause I walk

STAFFER: That’s true–balloons don’t walk. Are you going uphill? Upstairs? If you’re walking, how do you rise?

CALLER: like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.

STAFFER: That must be tough on your carpets.

CALLER: Just like moons and like suns,

STAFFER: Yes, the sun also rises. And it can fade your carpet.

CALLER: With the certainty of tides,

STAFFER: There’s flood damage? You might consider replacing the carpet altogether.

CALLER: Just like hopes springing high,

STAFFER: Well, I’m glad to hear you’re still hopeful. But–

CALLER: Still I’ll rise.

STAFFER: I’m glad to hear it. But is the carpet worth keeping?

CALLER: Did you want to see me broken?

STAFFER: Not at all. I just–

CALLER: Bowed head and lowered eyes?

STAFFER: No, it’s just, a carpet isn’t that hard to replace. Do you have homeowner’s insurance?

CALLER: Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

STAFFER: I’ll take that as a no.

CALLER: Weakened by my soulful cries.

STAFFER: I don’t think your tears will weaken the carpet fibers much.

CALLER: Does my haughtiness offend you?

STAFFER: Not at all. I’m just trying to–

CALLER: Don’t you take it awful hard

STAFFER: Why do you keep trying to make this about me?

CALLER: ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.

STAFFER: How does your gold mine make it my problem? Sometimes prospecting just doesn’t pan out.

CALLER: You may shoot me with your words,

STAFFER: I’m not trying to hurt you.

CALLER: You may cut me with your eyes,

STAFFER: [fixes hair] Are you calling on Skype? Because I’m not getting any video feed on this end.

CALLER: You may kill me with your hatefulness,

STAFFER: Look, lady, if the carpet’s that precious then keep it; I’m just trying to help.

CALLER: But still, like air, I’ll rise.

STAFFER: See, that’s much better. Like air.

CALLER: Does my sexiness upset you?

STAFFER: Not at all. Though I’m not supposed to respond to it. [flirtatious laugh] I’ve gotten in trouble for that in the past.

CALLER: Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?

STAFFER: That does surprise me. And it sounds uncomfortable. Have you tried wearing them on the soles of your shoes?

CALLER: Out of the huts

STAFFER: Is that hut with one T, like a tiny house, or with two T’s like Jabba?

CALLER: of history’s shame

STAFFER: Was he in the prequels? I thought he was just in Return of the Jedi.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Good idea. Best not to dwell on those movies. I hear Rogue One is good.

CALLER: Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

STAFFER: It’s supposed to be dark.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: That’s OK, if you want to get up and leave. You don’t have to like every movie.

CALLER: I’m a black ocean,

STAFFER: Was that in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise?

CALLER: leaping and wide,

STAFFER: Uh, Pirates of Penzance?

CALLER: Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

STAFFER: I mentioned I’m not allowed to flirt back, right?

CALLER: Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

STAFFER: It’s not that, it’s just the policy here. Callers are often vulnerable and we’re not supposed to take advantage.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: I get that, I’m just not allowed to–

CALLER: Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

STAFFER: Wonderful! Get out and face the day!

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Yes, get out of bed first.

CALLER: Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

STAFFER: I’m not allowed to accept gifts.

CALLER: I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

STAFFER: I certainly can’t accept that.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Like a bird?

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Like a plane?

CALLER: I rise.

STAFFER: Like…I don’t know, a helicopter or something?

The Queen of Cheese Presents: The Show Tune of J. Alfred Prufrock

I have wandered half-

Empty streets before

Like a patient etherized beneath a sheet before.

Women come and go;


They discuss, but I just need to pee.


Do I dare disturb

The whole universe

With decisions and revisions that I might reverse?

Spend the afternoons

Counting coffee spoons

Then decide that I’d like to take tea?


And should I comb my hair forward?

And do I dare eat a peach?

I should have been ragged pincers

That scut across the silt beyond this beach.


I have doffed my socks

On this beach before,

I have wondered if I dare to eat a peach before,

Heard the mermaids sing

Each to each before—

But I don’t think that they’ll sing to me.

Billy Collins calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSEOLOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: The dead are always looking down on us,
COUNSEOLOR: That sounds comforting.
CALLER: they say.
COUNSEOLOR: Wait–they talk to you? Continuously, or–
CALLER: while we are putting on our shoes
COUNSEOLOR: That sounds oddly specific.
CALLER: or making a sandwich,
COUNSEOLOR: Do they ask for specific toppings, or is that just a convenient time to chat?
CALLER: they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven.
COUNSEOLOR: So we’re all just some cosmic shipwreck tour?
CALLER: as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
COUNSEOLOR: In that case, I’m glad you packed them a sandwich.

Emily Dickinson calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: Because I could not stop for Death – 
COUNSELOR: Are your brakes failing? Are you in the vehicle now?
CALLER: He kindly stopped for me – 
COUNSELOR: That's a relief. Is your car still moving?
CALLER: The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
COUNSELOR: There's someone in the car with you?
CALLER: And Immortality.
COUNSELOR: Is that like OnStar? Can the rescue workers use it to pinpoint your location?
CALLER: We slowly drove –
COUNSELOR: Good, so you're slowing down. Is there a hill or embankment near you?
CALLER: He knew no haste
COUNSELOR: That's good. Best not to panic in this situation.
CALLER: And I had put away My labor 
COUNSELOR: What? You're having a baby?
CALLER: and my leisure too,
COUNSELOR: That's good. Relax. Try to breathe.
CALLER: For His Civility – 
COUNSELOR: Yes, it can be good to have a calm person in the--
CALLER: We passed the School
CALLER: where Children strove At Recess – 
CALLER: in the Ring – 
COUNSELOR: What, like the horror movie?
CALLER: We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
COUNSELOR: Much better
CALLER: We passed the Setting Sun – 
COUNSELOR: Um, where are you calling from? Over here, it's midafternoon.
CALLER: Or rather – He passed us – 
COUNSELOR: That's good to know. The sun travels at 720,000 kilometers per hour. I can't imagine how much that ticket would cost you.
CALLER: The Dews 
COUNSELOR: Yes, in a situation like this it's not unusual to think about the things you want to do, or need to do, or wish you could have done. But you'll have time to do those things later; right now I need you to stay in the moment, to keep yourself safe.
CALLER: drew quivering 
COUNSELOR: That's a normal physiological reaction. Just let it be and focus on getting yourself to safety. 
CALLER: and chill – 
COUNSELOR: Also a normal reaction.
CALLER: For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
COUNSELOR: Or it could be cold in the vehicle. Are the windows open?
CALLER: My Tippet – 
COUNSELOR: Oh no! Is anybody hurt?
CALLER: only Tulle – 
COUNSELOR: Don't worry about that, ma'am. I need you to focus on exiting the vehicle. You won't have any tool in the car that will be much use to you after you tip it.

Ogden Nash calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      When called by a panther

COUNSELOR:      Really? You sound kind of articulate for a big cat.

CALLER:      Don’t anther.

COUNSELOR:      A little late for that, sir, don’t you think?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      I see you’re taking your own advice.

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      What if I’m called by a puma?

CALLER:      Stay across the rooma?

COUNSELOR:      By a bear?

CALLER:      Pretend you’re not there.

COUNSELOR:      An eagle?

CALLER:      Try to sound regal.

COUNSELOR:      An elephant?

CALLER:      Misplace your celliphant.

COUNSELOR:      A snail?

CALLER:      Let it go to voicemail.

COUNSELOR:      A tyger tyger burning bright?

CALLER:      Lock the doors, turn off the lights.

COUNSELOR:      A lion?

CALLER:      Please stop tryin’.

COUNSELOR:      A purple cow?

CALLER:      Please stop now.

COUNSELOR:      What about a duck-billed platypus?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      Hello? Are you still there sir?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      Hello?


William Blake calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      Tyger!

COUNSELOR:      I’m sorry, did you say–

CALLER:      Tyger!

COUNSELOR:      Yes, I suppose you did. Are you sure? Do you have the lights on?

CALLER:      Burning bright.

COUNSELOR:      And where are you?

CALLER:      In the forest of the night.

COUNSELOR:      Is that near Hell’s Kitchen?

CALLER:      What

COUNSELOR:      Never mind. How do you feel at the moment?

CALLER:      Immortal

COUNSELOR:      That’s good. They can smell fear. I’m not sure if that’s synesthesia or a mixed metaphor, but they can. Is there something you can give the animal to distract him?

CALLER:      Hand

COUNSELOR:      Maybe something you don’t need as much.

CALLER:      or eye

COUNSELOR:      I was thinking something that isn’t, you know, attached. Do you think maybe you could…uh…could–

CALLER:      Could frame thy fearsome symmetry

COUNSELOR:      Actually, I’m kind of lopsided. Makes it hard to shop for bras.

William Carlos Williams Calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox…

COUNSELOR:      This is the Poetry Crisis Line, sir. did you want Poison Control?

CALLER:      …and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast.

COUNSELOR:      Did you mean to call the cafeteria? I can transfer you.

CALLER:      Forgive me.

COUNSELOR:     I’m not here to judge you, sir. What’s important is that you forgive yourself.

CALLER:      They were delicious…

COUNSELOR:      I’m glad to hear it.

CALLER:      …so sweet…

COUNSELOR:      And how this is a problem, sir?

CALLER:      …and so cold.

COUNSELOR:      I see. If the plums are too cold, you could try eating other types of fruit–if you feel you’re up for it. Do you dare to eat a peach?


The Ancient Mariner Calls the Poetry Crisis Line.

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      Water…

COUNSELOR:      Are you thirsty, sir?

CALLER:      …water…everywhere…

COUNSELOR:      Are you on land? Is there a risk of drowning?

CALLER:      …and all the boards…

COUNSELOR:      I’m confused. There’s water on your floorboards?

CALLER:     …did shrink.

COUNSELOR:      I’m not a shrink. I’m working on my MFA.

CALLER:     Water…

COUNSELOR:      So you ARE thirsty?

CALLER:    …water everywhere…

COUNSELOR:      Oh, right. Haven’t we been over this?

CALLER:     …nor any drop to drink.

COUNSELOR:      Sir, I think you’ve had enough to drink already.

Hamlet Calls the Poetry Crisis Line – part 1

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, how may I help you?
CALLER: To be or not to be, that is the question…
COUNSELOR: Would you like me to transfer you to Existential Crises?
CALLER: …whether tis nobler in the mind to bear..
COUNSELOR: …OK, nobility of thought. That sounds like a poetry emergency.
CALLER: …the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…
COUNSELOR: You have an outrageous fortune? May I transfer you to our fundraising department? Our endowment is funded by the estates of top-grossing poets, which gives us a monthly operating budget of about $37.
CALLER: …or to take arms against a sea of troubles…
COUNSELOR: Got it. Mixed metaphor department. Let me just
CALLER:…and so, by opposing, end them.
COUNSELOR: Right. Transferring you to the deus ex machina desk.