Poetry Center Archives

Poetry Center Digital Archive

The Poetry Center, founded at San Francisco State College (now SFSU) in 1954 by English Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant, has been recording and archiving tapes of its live programs for six decades. We have compiled and maintained one of the most significant public collections in the U.S. of original, recorded performances by poets and related writers reading their work.

In 1974, poet Kathleen Fraser, serving as director, formalized the American Poetry Archives within The Poetry Center, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. This collection, housed within the SF State College of Liberal & Creative Arts (Humanities Building 511-512), today holds nearly 5,000 hours of unique original audio and video master recordings, 1954–present, an inestimable cultural asset. Fragile early magnetic tape recordings are being transferred to digital formats, often in collaboration with the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) and their Preservation Access Program.

Poetry Center Digital Archive debuted in April 2011, making available significant portions of early audio recordings from The Poetry Center’s American Poetry Archives collection. New files are added incrementally as recordings are prepared and as we proceed through the collection from the 1950s onward. Beginning with Fall 2015, all new programs are being recorded in collaboration with SFSU's DocFilm Institute and made available as streaming video and downloadable audio. Video highlight clips now at the DocFilm Institute YouTube page: Poetry Center Video Highlights.

Poetry Center Digital Archive is a project in collaboration with SF State’s Digital Information Virtual Archive (DIVA) and has been funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources.

Additional Recordings

Poetry Center Digital Archive represents a portion of our American Poetry Archives 4,000-plus hour collection. Currently available for open public access are some twenty years of early audio recordings, 1954–1973; new digital video recordings, to be posted, event-by-event, beginning with our Fall 2015 season; and occasional special feature collections. Additional videos, both recent and historic, will be added as resources are available for post-production and metadata cataloging. Check Poetry Center Archive News for details regarding updates to our online archive.

Because of issues involving access to fragile original master tapes, frequently in antiquated formats, and costs related to digital transfer and preparation, many of the original recordings in our collection are not presently available for general public access. While we are in the process of migrating our extensive collection of recordings to our online archive (a multi-year project), access to any recordings not yet available online must be determined on a case-by-case basis. SF State faculty who plan to offer courses involving archival recordings not presently posted are asked to contact The Poetry Center four to six months in advance.

For specific inquiries contact The Poetry Center.

Note that Poetry Center videos produced for the American Poetry Archives are raw documents, made live on site with one microphone, one camera, and minimal post-production. These are not television-quality programs. Archives recordings provide documentation of the event as it occurs; flaws in the original recordings do exist. Typically, these are unique recordings: no second takes, and few edits.

The Poetry Center’s public programs, the basis for these recordings, are supported by Grants for the Arts-Hotel Tax Fund of the City of San Francisco, San Francisco State University’s College of Liberal & Creative Arts, the Fund for Poetry, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, and Friends of the Poetry Center.