“I find myself imagining every single person I see in public as a poet and I wonder what poems they might write,” the project’s creator says.

Ever wished you could just call a number and express yourself creatively in a completely anonymous, yet public, way?

Well, give 510-859-7203 a try.

That’s the number for Citizen Voicemail, a new Tumblr from an anonymous artist eager to hear what people have to say.

Over the last three months, the creator has been trotting around the country, posting fliers on lampposts asking people to call the number with a song, poem or random musing.

We interviewed the mystery man or woman on Thursday. Here’s what Citizen Voicemail had to say about the project, prank calls and anonymity.

Daily Dot: Do you have a favorite voicemail you’ve received?

About an hour after the first flyer was posted a guy calls in and leaves this gorgeous and amazingly appropriate song complete with the best throat singing I’ve ever heard.  I was expecting most calls would be people telling me I was stupid and so I was hesitant to listen to the first message, but after hearing this call I knew it would always be my favorite.

I do love the energy in all the calls though. For example, a group of young girls singing the Pokemon theme song. There’s so much fun and goofiness in it. And all the poems I receive are always heartfelt. My favorite part of any call is the occasional honest utterance that one can only be said to a complete stranger.

DD: What is the story behind the project?

I had a wild day last year. A friend and I were chatting about some graffiti art show and then all the messages presented in public spaces. Advertisements and notifications and graffiti and culture-jamming and during this conversation a woman asked us to fill out a survey. The questions were like ‘How does one manage to live on one’s own.’ It seemed ridiculous and I joked with my friend that the woman was using the survey to crowd-source advice for herself.

That idea of phoney surveys latched on to me and I was deeply intrigued and immediately wanted to try it out. I got a clipboard and spent the evening interviewing strangers under the guise of conducting surveys. It was thrilling! I spoke to everyone about everything. Taboo subjects. Hopes and dreams. Regrets. 

When I got home I gushed to my roommates about this sort of obvious realization that you can just talk to absolutely anyone about absolutely anything if you do it right. The idea morphed in the night and the next morning I wrote the first flyer and had my friend post it in the city I grew up in.

DD: Where have you been posting the number?

I want a very diverse mix of callers so I post at parks, bus stops, retirement homes, airports, trailer parks, libraries, or anywhere I think there are people I’d like to hear from.

DD: Why so much cloak and dagger in terms of your identity?

I’m so appreciative that you already seem to know what I’m all about and what my hesitations might be. I am just a regular person and your respect for my anonymity is so kind. I like to keep the project more about the citizens and the callers. So far I’ve posted in the US in at least 10 different cities spanning more than the lower 48. I’m about to post flyers around NYC and I want to expand to other countries. I’ve looked into trying to post classified ads in small papers around the world but I think I’d rather recruit people to post flyers in those countries for me.

DD: How many followers does the blog have?


DD: What do you think this social experiment tells you about people?

The general public is amazing and the best stuff comes from the people outside your typical peer group. I’ve had unbelievably wonderful responses from small midwestern towns and I’ve gotten great surprises from posting in major cities. It makes me look at everyone I see differently. I find myself imagining every single person I see in public as a poet and I wonder what poems they might write if they were. I wonder what songs people might like to sing at any particular moment. Everyone is interesting and I’m glad I figured out this little window where strangers can let loose a bit.

DD: What does the future hold for the project?

There’s so much to do and I would appreciate anyone taking up the idea themselves or coming up with their own spin-off. I myself have been experimenting with all the opportunities I can think of for public interaction that are under-utilized. I will, for example, post goofy classified ads in towns I know little about or broadcast calls on pirate radio stations. It’s a rewarding idea to explore.

Behind the lens with Tumblr icon Pleated-Jeans
Los Angeles comedian Jeff Wysaski found his voice on the Web—with animated humor and a carefuly curated Tumblr, Pleated-Jeans. 
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