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?

Robert Frost calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Some say the world will end in fire,

COUNSELOR: So you’ve been watching the news. Jerusalem or North Korea?

CALLER: Some say in ice.

COUNSELOR: Or the bomb cyclone?

CALLER: From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.

COUNSELOR: Yeah, that’s the terrifying part. That the people in charge seem to want a war.


COUNSELOR: Like they care about their approval ratings more than the long-term consequences. Like–

CALLER: if it had to perish twice,

COUNSELOR: What, you mean like a zombie apocalypse?

CALLER: I think I know enough of hate

COUNSELOR: That sounds more like an angry ghost–holding onto enough hostility to bring them back so they get–

CALLER: To say that

COUNSELOR: Or tweet it.

CALLER: for destruction

COUNSELOR: Yeah, it’s amazing how much harm a few words can cause.


COUNSELOR: What, you mean those people who round up immigrants and break up families? Like they don’t realize that an American family, even one that comes from somewhere else–

CALLER: Is also great

COUNSELOR: Exactly! And they think they’ll make us great again by kicking people out, when they could focus on rebuilding infrastructure, or creating jobs, or renewable energy, or … or…

CALLER: And would suffice.

COUNSELOR: Yeah, and. I also like and.

Sylvia Plath calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?
CALLER: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
COUNSELOR: What, you mean literally?
CALLER: I lift my lids and all is born again.
COUNSELOR: Well that’s a relief. But what if I like me the way I am?
CALLER: (I think I made you up inside my head.)
COUNSELOR: No, I’m really here. I’m, like, ninety percent sure of that.
CALLER: The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
COUNSELOR: Are you watching the presidential debate? Or Dancing With the Stars?
CALLER: And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
COUNSELOR: The horse race? I once bet a twenty on Arbitrary Blackness.
CALLER: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
COUNSELOR: Right. Is there maybe some coffee nearby? Or Red Bull?
CALLER: I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
COUNSELOR: Well that’s sweet of you.
CALLER: And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
COUNSELOR: You’re very sweet, but really, um, I shouldn’t mix…
CALLER: (I think I made you up inside my head.)
COUNSELOR: No, I’m real. I’m, like, eighty percent sure at least.
CALLER: God topples from the sky,
COUNSELOR: I don’t know if He’s real.
CALLER: hell’s fires fade:
COUNSELOR: I’m pretty sure they’re not real.
CALLER: Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
COUNSELOR: Wait, what?
CALLER: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
COUNSELOR: Look, I take it back about the Red Bull. You need a rest. I’ll risk it.
CALLER [glancing at oven]: I fancied you’d return the way you said,
COUNSELOR: I’m still here. I haven’t gone anywhere.
CALLER: But I grow old and I forget your name.
COUNSELOR: I didn’t tell you my name. This call is anonymous.
CALLER [walking over to oven]: (I think I made you up inside my head.)
COUNSELOR: It’s not THAT anonymous.
CALLER [putting hand on oven door]: I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
COUNSELOR: Like the wine?
CALLER: At least when spring comes they roar back again.
COUNSELOR: Oh, the car! Yeah the sound of a T-bird engine turns me on, too.
CALLER: I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
COUNSELOR: Don’t close them when you’re driving! Pull over and get some rest.
CALLER: (I think I made you up inside my head.)
COUNSELOR: That again? What if I made you up, huh? Did you think of that, Solipsism Girl? Did you?
[CALLER hangs up, opens oven door, bends down, leans into the oven, and takes out a loaf of fresh bread.]

Jenny Joseph calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLLER: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
COUNSELOR: I don’t mean to downplay your experience, but an emergency is usually more immediate and more problematic.
CALLLER:With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
COUNSELOR: Oh, I see. Ma’am, you have the wrong number. This is the Poetry Crisis Line. You want the Fashion Police.

Clement Clarke Moore calls the Poetry Crisis Line

Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: ‘Twas the night before Christmas,

COUNSELOR: Yes, the holidays can be a stressful time.

CALLER: when

COUNSELOR: You know, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. They can be a lot of fun, but the preparations can be difficult for some people.

CALLER: all through the house

COUNSELOR: For everyone? You might consider a low-key celebration instead of running your family ragged beforehand.

CALLER: Not a creature was stirring,

COUNSELOR: That’s not unusual. If everyone’s as frazzled as you say, then it’s healthy to take a rest.

CALLER: not even a mouse;

COUNSELOR: Now, that’s cause for concern. If the animals are also lethargic, you might want to look for an external cause.

CALLER: The stockings were hung

COUNSELOR: I don’t think that’s it. No matter how bad your socks smell, they aren’t likely to–

CALLER: by the chimney

COUNSELOR: That could be a problem. Have you lit a fire in the fireplace?

CALLER: with care,

COUNSELOR: I’m glad you’re practicing fire safety, sir, but have you had your chimney cleaned recently? A blocked flue could lead to carbon monoxide in your house. Especially if you haven’t used the fireplace in a long time, like if you lit the fire as a special holiday treat, or–

CALLER: In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

COUNSELOR: Now that’s just twisted

If All Poems Were Limericks: A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas. The hoof

Of a reindeer alit on the roof,

Which needed repair,

So now there’s a deer

In the kitchen, dear. Sorry. My goof.




[Want more Moore? The Poetry Crisis Line call for this poem will up on Christmas Eve.]