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 1954-1973 are available for open public access at Poetry Center Digital Archive.
Full video programs: view streaming video for every one of our recent programs at Poetry Center Digital Archive.
Video highlight clips from recent programs at Poetry Center Video Highlights.
Support for The Poetry Center
Poetry Center programs are presently supported by funding from Grants for the Arts (City of San Francisco), the College of Liberal & Creative Arts of San Francisco State University, the Fund for Poetry, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, the John F. Norton Trust, the Sam Mazza Foundation, 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 English Professor (and founding Poetry Center Director) Ruth Witt-Diamant. Auden, the story goes, donated the honorarium paid to him when he made an appearance to celebrate the 1953 opening of the present San Francisco State campus — along with what he was paid for a West Coast reading tour that had been set up for him by Witt-Diamant. Today, The Poetry Center, located in rooms 511-512 of the Humanities Building on the SFSU campus, is one of the most long-lived and nationally renowned literary arts institutions in the United States.
Witt-Diamant, with advice and encouragement from local poets Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, and Madeline Gleason, and her late friend Dylan Thomas, among others, initiated The Poetry Center’s pioneering poetry reading series with a visit by Theodore Roethke in February 1954, followed by many 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 that time, The Poetry Center has presented over 125 continuous seasons of outstanding contemporary poets and writers reading 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
Since 1954, The Poetry Center has documented its readings through live recordings. With the establishment twenty years later of the American Poetry Archives, under Director Kathleen Fraser in 1973, nearly every reading the Poetry Center presented began being video-recorded. Presently, each of our new programs is being professionaly recorded by the 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, thus 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 incrementally, as recordings are prepared and as we proceed through the collection from its beginnings in 1954 onward. Starting with Fall 2015, all new programs are being featured as streaming video and downloadable audio. For full program videos, check our recent programs. Brief video highlight clips, selected from each full program, are now featured on YouTube: Poetry Center Video Highlights.