Equal parts strangers and faceless friends by Ella Otomewo


Equal parts strangers and faceless friends

Image of a young Black woman with shoulder length, curly, black hair, who is wearing a white t-shirt. She is leaning her chin on her hand while looking calmly and confidently into the camera. The photo is framed inside a free flowing shape with round edges and small black lines border on 3 edges to give the shape a sense of movement. This photo sits on a pale blue backdrop.Whenever folks would ask me about this project while I was working on it, I would always get a little excited, and say, “Well it’s a bit different from my usually creative work – but it all interlinks!” I’d explain that we were artists interested in community and connection, and that in many ways our artforms were not really the most important part of why we were there. Tuesdays were my day to wander around my garden or lie down on my bedroom floor, and chat on the phone to a group of strangers whose paths I may not have crossed otherwise. I often thought how unusual and lovely it was, that I could build a relationship with people whose faces I had never seen, and who had never seen mine. Dial gave me the opportunity to listen and to share aspects of my life with new people; something that I’ve really missed during lockdown.

Poems in response to Dial by Ella Otomewo

A photograph of a young black woman in a smart white sleeveless blouse operating an old-fashioned telephone operating system. The photograph is taken from behind the woman.
Jersey Telecom telephone operator at switchboard, 1975 by Joseph A. Carr

Hello, Operator?

I like to think of an old telephone switchboard

when I dial up; an electrical cord connecting us both

at the terminal jacks. Maybe even a woman

in a headset listening in …

There are parallels between us –

equal parts strangers and faceless friends

who sit on another side of the city

with the phone resting against their ear.

Whatever ancient thing that is still inside of us,

it wants us to relate to each other, and to feel that tug

(like a cord on a switchboard) as

just as it is, or just as it was.

Bright photograph of a branch of an apple tree. It appears to be spring time and the branch is full of ripened red apples.


One of my favourite things

is to imagine what the room is like –

the one you’re sitting in right now.

You told me about the apples

you’ve so recently picked, and

the smell that wraps its way round the kitchen

as we speak, and as they bubble

on the stove, and the fresh peels

coiling on the tabletop.

Photo taken from behind of a person wearing a denim studded jacket with an AC/DC patch on the collar. They are holding their arms aloft in joy as they dance on a dance floor which is bathed in neon pink and purple light.

What’s the Craic?

We: a motley pair,

on either end of the line,

despair at how much

we miss the craic .

How music makes us

both want to move,

and how you’ve

been feeling as restless

as I have. And though

we have (on the surface)

very little in common,

we both know

that nothing beats

the shake of a limb

to a song that moves

you like a hymn for the soul!

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