Poetry Center Archives

Poetry Center Digital Archive is a project in collaboration with San Francisco State University's Digital Information Virtual Archive (DIVA), a division of Academic Technology, and has been funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources.

The Poetry Center, founded at San Francisco State College—now San Francisco State University—in 1954 by English Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant, has been recording and archiving tapes of its live programs for over six decades. We've compiled and maintained one of the most significant public collections in the US of original recordings of poets and related writers and artists performing their work.

In 1974 poet Kathleen Fraser, then Director, formalized the American Poetry Archives within The Poetry Center, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. This collection, housed within SF State's 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. Fragile early magnetic tape recordings are gradually being transferred to digital formats, often in collaboration with the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) and their Preservation Access Program. Our Digital Archives Include:

Poetry Center Digital Archive debuted in 2011 and makes available significant streaming and downloadable audio recordings from the American Poetry Archives collection, 1954–1969.

All new programs are recorded to digital video (since September 2015 in collaboration with San Francisco State University's DocFilm Institute) and are available as streaming video, with downloadable audio.

Additional Recordings

Poetry Center Archive News

Poetry Center Digital Archive represents a portion of the American Poetry Archives 5,000-plus hour collection. Currently available for open public access are some fifteen years of early audio recordings, 1954–1969; new digital video recordings, posted event-by-event as streaming video and downloadable audio; and special feature collections tapping the historic archive. 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 occasional updates.

Noteworthy Information

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 in the process of migrating this extensive collection of recordings to the online archive (an ongoing 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 email the The Poetry Center at poetry@sfsu.edu.

Note that historic Poetry Center videos produced for the American Poetry Archives are raw documents, made live on site generally with one microphone, one camera, and minimal post-production. 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 presently supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sam Mazza Foundation, the Poetry Coalition, SFSU College of Liberal & Creative Arts, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, the John F. Norton Trust, anonymous donors, and Friends of the Poetry Center.