Nikki Giovanni calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR:  Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: While it is true


CALLER: (though only in a factual sense)

COUNSELOR: Facts are a good place to start. What are we discussing?

CALLER: That in the wake of a / Her-I-can

COUNSELOR: Is that where a Yes-we-can meets an I’m-with-her?

CALLER: comes a / Shower

COUNSELOR: Wishful thinking, I guess. Are you talking about a rain shower? Or a shower in your bathroom?

CALLER: Surely I am not

COUNSELOR: A baby shower?

CALLER: The gravitating force

COUNSELOR: Uh… a meteor shower?

CALLER: that keeps this house

COUNSELOR: Wait–your house was hit by a meteor?

CALLER: full of panthers

COUNSELOR: Uh… That’s a first. Did they call ahead?


COUNSELOR: If they do, don’t anther.

CALLER: LBJ has made it

COUNSELOR: Do you mean the dead president? Or the LBJ Space Center?

CALLER: quite clear to me

COUNSELOR: If you say so. Do you think NASA makes a practice of packing wild animals into space rocks?

CALLER: He doesn’t give a / Good goddamn what I think

COUNSELOR: I do. Care what you think, I mean. I don’t stuff big cats into meteors.

CALLER: (else why would he continue to masterbate in public?)

COUNSELOR:  I don’t know. Poor impulse control?


Read the original here


Langston Hughes calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Landlord,

COUNSELOR: I see. And what is your landlord trying to do?

CALLER: landlord,

COUNSELOR: I mean, is the landlord harassing you, or attempting to evict you?

CALLER: My roof has sprung a leak.

COUNSELOR: So, refusing to make necessary repairs. Is there water, water everywhere?

CALLER: Don’t you ‘member I told you about it / Way last week?

COUNSELOR: It may have been someone else who took your call.

CALLER: Landlord,

COUNSELOR: I mean another counselor here.

CALLER: landlord,

COUNSELOR: I don’t think your landlord works here. But if he does, it would be a conflict of interest for him to take your call.

CALLER: These steps is broken down.

COUNSELOR: So you think someone didn’t follow the steps properly in reporting a conflict of interest? That would be a problem. Or are you talking about a Twelve-Step program?

CALLER: When you come up yourself

COUNSELOR: I’m sorry, we don’t do home visits.

CALLER:It’s a wonder you don’t fall down.

COUNSELOR: Many people stumble on addiction programs. If you’re having trouble with Twelve Step, modern counseling methods may be more effective for you.

CALLER: Ten Bucks you say I owe you?

COUNSELOR: No, sir, this is a free service.

CALLER: Ten Bucks you say is due?

COUNSELOR: The crisis line is free. If we refer you, then the counseling may cost money, depending on your insurance.

CALLER: Well, that’s Ten Bucks more’n I’l pay you

COUNSELOR: That’s fine, sir. You aren’t obligated to give us money—now or in the future.

CALLER: Till you fix this house up new.

COUNSELOR: No, sir. We can help clarify the issues, but ultimately it’s up to you to solve your own problems.

Martin Niemöller calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: First they came for the Socialists,

COUNSELOR: Really? Not for the beach, or the view, or the shopping?

CALLER: and I did not speak out—

COUNSELOR: It’s your vacation–you really ought to have a say.

CALLER: Because I was not a Socialist.

COUNSELOR: Exactly–so why would you want to go see them on your vacation–unless you mean, like, the Diego Rivera murals. Then–

CALLER: Then they came for the Trade Unionists,

COUNSELOR: Can you sue your travel agent for malpractice?

CALLER: and I did not speak out—

COUNSELOR: I’m just thinking out loud here

CALLER: Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

COUNSELOR: …and I’m starting to notice a pattern.

CALLER: Then they came for the Jews,

COUNSELOR: Right. Like it’s not bad enough when people drive around Pennsylvania and gawp at the Amish.

CALLER: and I did not speak out—

COUNSELOR: “It’s all right–ve look at the Jews.”

CALLER: Because I was not a Jew.

COUNSELOR: But hey, while you’re there maybe you can catch a Broadway show. I hear Hamilton’s good.


COUNSELOR: Waitaminit–I just realized. When you say “came for,” do you mean–

CALLER: they came for me—

COUNSELOR: What?? Are they there right now?

CALLER: and there was no one left to speak for me.

COUNSELOR: I’ll speak for you. Just hold the phone up, and I’ll yell really loud.


COUNSELOR: Don’t take him! He’s got flat feet!!


COUNSELOR: He’s really stringy!!!




Ursula K. Le Guin calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Why is it I want to cry?

COUNSELOR: I don’t know. Why do you think it is?


COUNSELOR: What, like the bird?

CALLER: crow,

COUNSELOR: Or the verb? When you say cry, do you mean you want to cry out? To crow about something?

CALLER: tell me.

COUNSELOR: I think you need to seek that answer for yourself.

CALLER: There is a shadow passing by.

COUNSELOR: It’s OK if you want to wait for it to pass. Or you can go into the shadow and look for the answer. However you’d like.

CALLER: The willows call me.

COUNSELOR: Are they on the other line? Do you need to get that?

CALLER: Why would an old woman weep?

COUNSELOR: There are many reasons. What’s yours?

CALLER: Willow,

COUNSELOR: The ones on call waiting?

CALLER: tell me, willow.

COUNSELOR: No, ma’am, this is still the Poetry Crisis Line. The willows are on the other line.

CALLER: Crows went flying through my sleep.

COUNSELOR: That sounds distracting. Did they land in the willows?

CALLER: I cry and follow

COUNSELOR: I’m sorry. I’m afraid I really don’t follow.

Robert Browning calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR:  Poetry crisis line, what is your emergency?

CALLER:   Rats!

COUNSELOR:  I’m sorry, do you mean rodents or police informants?

CALLER:   They fought the dogs

COUNSELOR:  That doesn’t answer my question.

CALLER:   And killed the cats

COUNSELOR:  Those would have to be tough rodents.

CALLER:   And bit the babies in the cradle

COUNSELOR:  That sounds like a serious problem.

CALLER:   Drank the soup from the chef’s own ladle

COUNSELOR:  That sounds like a less serious problem.

CALLER:   Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats.

COUNSELOR:  That sounds like a downright hilarious problem.

CALLER:   They even–

COUNSELOR:  I mean, can you picture some guy putting on his hat and finding–

CALLER:   –spoiled the women’s chats

COUNSELOR:  How is that–

CALLER:   By drowning their speaking / in shrieking and squeaking / in fifty different sharps and flats.

COUNSELOR:  I was going to ask how that’s as important as killing cats and biting babies, but thanks for the clarification.

CALLER:   At last the people in a body / To the town hall came flocking.

COUNSELOR:  And how did that work out?

CALLER:   “It’s clear,” said they, “our mayor’s a noddy–“

COUNSELOR:  Do you mean a bird–or does  he just doze off a lot?

CALLER:   And as for the corporation,

COUNSELOR:  Yes, this corporate personhood thing has gone way too far.

CALLER:   Shocking!

COUNSELOR:  Absolutely.

CALLER:   To think we buy gowns lined with ermine

COUNSELOR:  Wow, really?

CALLER:   For dolts who can’t or won’t determine–

COUNSELOR:  Though I should clarify that an ermine is a mustelid, not a rodent.

CALLER:   –what’s best to rid us of our vermin.

COUNSELOR:  It’s a common mistake. The class mustelidae includes otters, minks, meerkats, and wolverines; but mice rats, beavers, and capybaras are rodents.

CALLER:   You hope because you’re old and obese

COUNSELOR:  Excuse me?

CALLER:   To find in the furry civic robes ease?

COUNSELOR:  I do not wear fur, I am a perfectly healthy weight for my body type, and the Poetry Crisis Line is largely funded by private donations–at least thirty-five percent.

CALLER:   Rouse up, sirs!

COUNSELOR:  Do I sound like a sir to you?

CALLER:   Give your brains a racking / To find the remedy we’re lacking!

COUNSELOR:  No, sir. I can help you find a solution if you are willing to be helped, but ultimately that solution has to come from you.

CALLER:   Or sure as fate we’ll send you packing

COUNSELOR:  Not if I send you first. Goodbye.

Robert Service calls the Poetry Crisis Line, part 1

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: There are strange things done in the midnight sun


CALLER: By the men who moil

COUNSELOR: Yeah, that seems strange to me too. I wonder why someone would take that up as a profession.

CALLER: for gold;

COUNSELOR: You don’t think it’s some sort of sacred calling?

CALLER: The Arctic trails have their secret tales

COUNSELOR: Mohels…gold…secrets. Have you been reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

CALLER: That would make your blood run cold;

COUNSELOR: Well, yeah. But it’s propaganda.

CALLER: The Northern Lights

COUNSELOR: Is that a bar?

CALLER: have seen queer sights,

COUNSELOR: More propaganda. No one’s trying to change your orientation.

CALLER: But the queerest they ever did see

COUNSELOR: It isn’t a competition.

CALLER: Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

COUNSELOR: And I’m not here to judge.

CALLER: I cremated Sam McGee.

COUNSELOR: Huh. I’ve never heard it called that before.


Read Part 2 here

Gwendolyn Brooks calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your–

CALLER: John Cabot,

COUNSELOR: I was going to ask what your emergency is, not your–

CALLER: out of Wilma,

COUNSELOR: I don’t know where that is.

CALLER: once a Wycliffe,

COUNSELOR: I’m sorry where is that exactly?

CALLER: all whitebluerose

COUNSELOR: And that’s located…?

CALLER: below his golden hair,

COUNSELOR: Um… geographically?

CALLER: wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

COUNSELOR: Never mind. What are you calling about?

CALLER: almost forgot his Jaguar

COUNSELOR: Like the big cat? Or the sportscar?

CALLER: and Lake Bluff;

COUNSELOR: And we’re back to geography again. Dude, where’s your car?

CALLER: almost forgot

COUNSELOR: Yeah, I kind of noticed that.

CALLER: Grandtully

COUNSELOR: Where’s that?

CALLER: (which is The / Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch);

COUNSELOR: Scotch Plains? In New Jersey?

CALLER:  almost / forgot

COUNSELOR: Again? OK, is there some kind of landmark that can help you remember?

CALLER: the sculpture

COUNSELOR: Good. And where is this sculpture located?

CALLER: at the Richard Gray

COUNSELOR: And that’s where?

CALLER: and Distelheim;

COUNSELOR:  Right. Is that a real place? It sounds like one of those countries from Lord of the Rings.

CALLER: the kidney pie at Maxim’s, / the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

COUNSELOR: Yeah, Tolkien did go on and on about the food sometimes.

CALLER: Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

COUNSELOR: Excuse me?

CALLER: Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty

COUNSELOR: Wait–so you’re calling because you saw some African Americans on the street? That’s really not cool.

CALLER: (not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)

COUNSELOR: You’re not helping yourself here.

CALLER: and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.

COUNSELOR: Rank? So they’re in uniform?

CALLER: In seas. In windsweep.

COUNSELOR: Is it Fleet Week already?

CALLER: They were black and loud.

COUNSELOR: I guess so.

CALLER: And not detainable. And not discreet.

COUNSELOR: Yep. That sounds like Fleet Week.

CALLER: Gross.

COUNSELOR: Please don’t judge people.

CALLER:  Gross.

COUNSELOR: Why? What are they doing?

CALLER:  “Que tu es grossier!

COUNSELOR: You’re grossed out because they’re talking French?

CALLER: John Cabot / itched instantly

COUNSELOR: Instantly? Usually stuff that’ll make you itch isn’t spread through casual contact. You’d have to go–

CALLER: beneath the nourished white

COUNSELOR: If that’s what you’d like to call it.

CALLER: that told his story of glory to the World.

COUNSELOR: A bit full of yourself, aren’t you?

CALLER: “Don’t let It touch me!


CALLER: the blackness!


CALLER: Lord!”

COUNSELOR: Yeah, whatever.

CALLER: he whispered / to any handy angel in the sky.

COUNSELOR: Look, I’m sorry if I offended your sensibilities, but…

CALLER: But, in a thrilling announcement,

COUNSELOR: What? You have _more_ to say? You may want to quit while you’re . . . uh. . .

CALLER: on It drove

COUNSELOR: What? I thought you couldn’t find your car.

CALLER: and breathed on him: and touched him.

COUNSELOR: OK–so, back to my earlier question: What has you so grossed out? Because I think the problem might not be–

CALLER:  In that breath  / the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,

COUNSELOR: Right. Do you realize how you sound right now?

CALLER: malign,


CALLER:  mocked John.

COUNSELOR: I’m not mocking you, it’s just that it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good life, with a lot of nice things, but you’re getting all worked up because you saw some noisy black people walking down the street. That isn’t cool, man.

CALLER: And, in terrific touch, old / averted doubt jerked forward decently,

COUNSELOR:  About time.

CALLER: cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man, / and

COUNSELOR: You don’t sound desperate exactly–you just need to get your priorities in order before–

CALLER: the desperate die expensively today.”


CALLER: John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire

COUNSELOR: Wait–you’re not him?

CALLER: and broken glass

COUNSELOR: Hang on. This is a woman’s voice.


COUNSELOR: And I’ve heard this voice before, at a reading, I think.

CALLER: blood, and he cried

COUNSELOR:  OMG, am I talking to Gwendolyn Brooks?

CALLER:  “Lord! / Forgive these n—–s that know not what they do.”

COUNSELOR: It’s OK Ms. Brooks. We cool. [puts on sunglasses] We real cool.

Lewis Carroll calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Twas brillig

COUNSELOR: Like you use to scrub pots?

CALLER: …and the slithy toves

COUNSELOR: Those must be hard to get off of cast iron.

CALLER: … did gyre and gimble…

COUNSELOR: Was the gyre widening? Was anything turning and turning within it?

CALLER: …in the wabe.

COUNSELOR: No, I mean the gyre.

CALLER: All mimsey were the borogoves

COUNSELOR: That’s nice

CALLER: And the mome raths outgrabe.


CALLER: Beware the jabberwock…

COUNSELOR: How is that different from a regular wok? Is it harder to clean?

CALLER: my son

COUNSELOR: Yeah, it’s important to teach kids to cook, but they can make a big mess.

CALLER: The jaws that bite…

COUNSELOR: Oh, is he a little kid?

CALLER: …the claws that catch.

COUNSELOR: With poor impulse control?

CALLER: Beware the jubjub bird,

COUNSELOR: Yeah, I don’t recommend teaching your pet to cook.
CALLER: and shun–

COUNSELOR: It’s not shunning, it’s just…animals and fire? Never a good idea.

CALLER: The frumious bandersnatch.

COUNSELOR: What did you just call me?

Adrienne Rich calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: The trees inside are moving out into the forest,

COUNSELOR: That makes me sad, too, when it’s time to take the tree down.

CALLER: the forest–

COUNSELOR: Or are you afraid you might never see a poem that’s as lovely?

CALLER: –that was empty all these days

COUNSELOR: How can a forest be empty? I mean, if it’s empty, what makes it a forest?

CALLER: where no bird could sit / no insect hide

COUNSELOR: Oh, so you mean empty of living things? I mean, except that the trees are also living.

CALLER: no sun bury its feet in shadow

COUNSELOR: So it’s dark there, too? And empty? Is it also silent?

CALLER: the forest that was empty all these nights / will be full of trees by morning.

COUNSELOR: I see. But if they fall, will they make a sound?