Telephone by Jay Besemer

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  • Jen-Besemer-Telephone-Author-Photo-550×550

A poetic solo act of call-and-response.

by Jay Besemer

Pub Date: October 1, 2013
108 pages
ISBN-13: 9781936767069

Cover art by Jay Besemer and Joe Pan.

print $14.95

eBook $9.99


Telephone is the kind of poetry I’m most attracted to. First of all, it’s about an idea that is pursued in language in full knowledge that language can only attempt to approach ideas. Also knowing that language discovers meaning within itself once put into motion. Besemer knows how to set the conditions for the best kinds of discoveries about the world and language simultaneously, and he leaves room for you to make your own. You won’t want to put this telephone down. You’ll want to become the receiver.

Laura Goldstein

Telephone is a game and a snake on the wall, and now it’s a book by Jay Besemer. Structured as a solo act of call-and-response, these poems talk to each other and to you. Fully situated in the contemporary moment, these small prose blocks function as windows looking out at American highways, noticing wildflowers instead of cars, urging us to “wake, you sleepers : mate your shoes.” Besemer highlights the violence in myths of happiness: “make a forest with your hands : do you want the wolf : do you want the woodcutter…children forced into iron dresses & lead slippers : to grow up half dead with worry over shapes & sizes & the presence or absence that will never fully define us.” Here are “borders to be crossed & kissed,” landscapes and bodies to reclaim: “the bulge in my trousers is that blip in spacetime.”

Carol Guess

What is it to collaborate with yourself? What embodiment activations does that actually require? Do you feel that you are going crazy? I see Besemer’s Telephone as collaborated solo-contour bordering on body lyricism. There is certainly content in here, but Besemer keeps the content skewed, inverted, and interrupted in ways that allow us to remain uncomfortable, perhaps forever standing—like a Sadhu—or running back and forth between the stones ourselves: “erupts in compact pregnancies,” “learn to mistrust other men’s fingers,” “feel your memory become a series of seismic events.” The premise of Telephone is its evidence; it is specific enough that loving and highly personal poise can be strengthened by way of it. Dear collaborated solo-contour: one plus one does not always equal two; sometimes one plus one equals a stronger one.

j/j hastain

Jay Besemer’s Telephone presents the reader with amuse-bouche after amuse-bouche. These sly poems open the literary palate to the complex flavors of the everyday in order to prepare us for overtones of chaos and undertones of cosmos. Reading any of these poems enhances the feast of all of these poems.

Nicholas Alexander Hayes

Telephone initiates a series of observations and imaginings—nimble, discrete juxtapositions. One digital voice frays into two. Calls are received and then telegraphed to another voice/location. Language is compacted into pulsations/packets or extended into streaming exploratory movements. A solo call and response that demands the reader’s attention and participation; Besemer writes intrigue, interest, and delight.

Max Wolf Valerio

Interview with Magus Magnus at Rain Taxi

MM: “. . . [H]ow do you think your poetry realizes itself in the “real world”? I mean, first off, do you think poetry realizes itself in the real world?”

JB:”My first impulse is to ask “what real world is that?” But I take the question as an invitation to look at what is meant by “poetry,” and what it might be, what it might mean, if we let it move through and beyond the page, and if we broaden our definitions of language as well. . . . As to how my poetry realizes itself in the world I move around in, I suppose it does so through my books and my other publications, performances, and exhibitions. . . . I’m continually, simultaneously bringing forth not only the poem I make but also the poet that makes it.

Review by Zoe Tuck at The Volta Blog

“This is the act of an optimist and there is an optimism here which is neither naive nor cruel, as in Lauren Berlant’s definition. Besemer veers away from other poetic responses to the anthropocene, such as self-serious documentary and somber elegy which do not account for literary pleasure: “an exile into sincerity is your doom” (45). Can dreams be the map? Telephone left me in a mood of apocalyptic hope.”

Jen-Besemer-Telephone-Author-Photo-550x550Jay Besemer is a hybrid artist and the author of four poetry chapbooks, the most recent being Object with Man’s Face (Rain Taxi Ohm Editions). He is currently pursuing solo and collaborative projects in recombinant poetry, translation, performance, criticism, visual art, and combinations thereof. Recent work has appeared in Artifice, Aufgabe, BlazeVOX, Drunkenboat, e-ratio, Otoliths, and Pank, and is anthologized in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat). Jay writes features and reviews for Rain Taxi Review of Books and teaches art and poetry workshops in and around Chicago. To learn more, visit

Click here to read Jay-Besemer-Sample-Poems.