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 some 130 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 over 5,000 hours of original recordings of poets and related artists performing their works.
Audio and Video Documentation
The Poetry Center, beginning in 1955, documented most of its readings via live audio recordings. With the establishment of the American Poetry Archives, under Director Kathleen Fraser in 1973, most every reading for The Poetry Center would be video-recorded and archived. Presently, new programs are video-recorded, with support from the John F. Norton Trust, in conjunction with SF State's DocFilm Institute, and made available as on-demand streaming video, downloadable audio and brief video highlight clips.
Since 1994, the Archives' original magnetic-tape media collection has been located in a climate-controlled space, with enhanced storage conditions inhibiting deterioration of earlier and newer media. 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 its complete collection of fragile magnetic tapes to digital media, significantly enhancing the lifespan and availability of these rare original recordings.
Poetry Center Digital Archive, debuted April 2011, makes available significant portions of early audio recordings from the American Poetry Archives collection. New programs are featured as streaming video and downloadable audio, with earlier seasons being added incrementally. For full-program videos, check our recent program at our Poetry Digital Archives. Video highlight clips pulled from each full program are featured on YouTube: Poetry Center Video Highlights.