The Poetry Center, located in Humanities 511-512 at San Francisco State University, presents some 30 public readings, performances and lectures each year, on the SF State campus and at various off-campus venues, featuring outstanding poets and writers from across the literary spectrum. The Poetry Center Reading Series, founded in 1954, is one of the longest-running such programs in the country, with roots in the 1950s San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. We also house the American Poetry Archives, a collection approaching 5,000 hours of original audio and video recordings documenting our reading series.
Historic audio recordings from 1954-1969 are available at Poetry Center Digital Archive.
Full video programs from the recent years at Poetry Center Digital Archive.
Video highlight clips from Fall 2015 forward at Poetry Center Video Highlights.
Support for The Poetry Center
Poetry Center programs are presently supported by funding from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Sam Mazza Foundation, the John F. Norton Trust, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, the College of Liberal & Creative Arts at SF State, Anonymous Donors, and Friends of The Poetry Center: Join us!
The Poetry Center was founded in 1954, after a small donation by W. H. Auden was put to use by SF State English Professor and founding Poetry Center Director Ruth Witt-Diamant. Witt-Diamant was offered advice and encouragement from local poets Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, and Madeline Gleason, and her late friend Dylan Thomas, among others. The Poetry Center's public poetry reading series was initiated with a visit by Theodore Roethke in February 1954. That event was followed by dozens of others, including some of the earliest recorded readings of the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, and rare West Coast readings by William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Langston Hughes.
Since then, The Poetry Center has presented over 125 continuous seasons of outstanding contemporary poets and writers reading and performing from their works. With its companion project, The American Poetry Archives, the center has amassed circa 5,000 hours of original recordings of poets and related artists performing their works. The Poetry Center represents an irreplaceable collective record of the past sixty-plus years of American (and international) literary accomplishment.
Audio and Video Documentation
The Poetry Center, beginning in 1955, documented most of its readings via live audio recordings. With the establishment nearly twenty years later of the American Poetry Archives, under Director Kathleen Fraser in 1973, most every reading for the Poetry Center would to be video-recorded. Presently, each new program is professionaly video-recorded by SF State's DocFilm Institute, and made available as on-demand streaming video, downloadable audio, and brief "highlight" video clips.
Since 1994, the Archives' original magnetic-tape media collection has been located in a climate-controlled space, with enhanced storage conditions inhibiting deterioration to earlier and new materials alike. Overall, The Poetry Center is engaged in a long-term Archives Project, in collaboration with DIVA (Digital Information Video Archive) at SF State, aimed at eventual transfer of our complete collection of fragile magnetic tapes to digital media, significantly enhancing the lifespan and availability of the original Archives recordings by making them available as digital media.
Poetry Center Digital Archive, which debuted in April 2011, makes available significant portions of early audio recordings from the American Poetry Archives collection. New files are added as recordings are prepared and we proceed through the collection. Since Fall 2015, all new programs are featured as streaming video and downloadable audio, with earlier seasons getting added incrementally. For full-program videos, check our recent programs. Brief video highlight clips, pulled from each full program, are now featured on YouTube: Poetry Center Video Highlights.