Support The Poetry Center

Poetry Center programs for 2020–21 are kindly supported by the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sam Mazza Foundation, the Poetry Coalition (via a grant to the Academy of American Poets from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), the John F. Norton Trust, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, San Francisco State University’s College of Liberal & Creative Arts, Anonymous Donors, and Friends of the Poetry Center. Join us!

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From the Director

Dear Friend,
I’m writing after The Poetry Center’s last event of 2020, Erica Hunt’s openly direct talk for the 35th annual George Oppen Memorial Lecture. Hunt brought us home, moving from “Oppen’s then and our now, Oppen’s now and our then” to this present, where losses and benefits get shared out unequally, and by design. Calling our sights to a world after corona virus pandemic, Hunt asked us to consider with her the issue of “how to walk otherwise, through ‘the real.’” ‘After’ Oppen’s practice, her talk enacted a refusal to bend to any tendentious or academic stranglehold on thinking with and in poetry. If a world after the corona virus pandemic presses us to resort to ‘normality,’ then, after Erica and so many others, we have to press for ‘otherwise worlds’—in the plural—as places of possibility for sustenance and justice for whoever gets pressed outside the margins of care.
Before jumping into a direct appeal for your support for The Poetry Center and asking for a donation, I want to consider these matters differently. The Poetry Center, attached to an institution of the state, the public university, at the end of 2020 finds itself in a position of relative stability and—like so much else—prospective precarity.
All public programs we cancelled in Spring took place, with truly remarkable performances and audiences, as remote-access online events this Fall. I hope you could tune in—an unprecedented 30-poet/artist celebration of Bob Kaufman, his life and work; a necessary, post-election evening in honor of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, and in support of The Women’s Building, reminding us what matters. Beautiful nights with John Yau (and Andrew Joron, and with Claudia La Rocco) and with Prageeta Sharma (with Dodie Bellamy) graced our second year of programs for the In Common Writers Series; we paired with our neighbors at the Iranian Diaspora Institute to trace the legacy of crucial poet Forugh Farrokhzad; and our 4th Mazza Writer in Residence, Wendy Trevino, delivered a model of solidarity and commitment to poetry, politics, and thinking alongside Palestinian poet Zaina Alsous. There was more, and I’m certain so much of these events’ success is due to the on-the-scene presence of our Poetry Center Advisory Group—Brandon Brown, Norma Cole, alex cruse, Tonya Foster, and Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta. And, ‘behind the scenes,’ it all really happened because of the fortunate return of our stellar student crew (for the first time adding their energies to our programming as emcees), our welcome collaboration (now in our 6th year) with DocFilm Institute—navigating the territory of these new online events, while following the lead and presence of Elise Ficarra, Associate Director. This is all good. Thank you to every one of you.
Back to my call for your donation. Some of The Poetry Center’s funding and base of support is relatively stable. This year, at the height of the pandemic, we received the good news of a generous ten-year commitment from the Sam Mazza Foundation, in support of our twice-annual Mazza Writer in Residence program. It’s an extremely gratifying show of support, for what we’ve done with this program and for past and future local artists in residence. Our Tripwire Cross-Cultural Poetics Series will reappear in Spring, after a recess this past Fall, and support for Poetry Coalition programs continues. And, though we applied for a major program grant, to support unique combos of poets, writers outside poetry, and musicians across two years, and this venture failed to materialize (we didn’t get the grant), we have received some smaller unexpected gifts. These funds will go to guest poets in our Spring online reading series, —we’re harboring a speculative hope that we’ll be on the ground again in Fall 2021.
Unlike some peer organizations—with arts venues worldwide being forced to shut their doors—our physical site remains stable. Also, due to The Poetry Center director and associate director (we are a spare crew) being backed at our jobs by collective bargaining agreements, we can stay—although the CalState systemwide hiring freeze, charted to be in effect for some time (owing, at root, to systemic failure to tax the wealthy and fully support public education), means if we were to leave we would not be replaced. That’s a sobering thought, speaking of futurity.  

For the next several years our plan is this: 1) to commit to a strong, engaged and engaging series of readings and programs, expanding from what we’ve done; 2) to locate and secure resources to get The Poetry Center’s remarkable 65-year recorded archive fully online for free and open public access; and, 3) to lay the necessary groundwork for succession to the next ‘generation’ of Poetry Center directors. I was just interviewed, by Mitzy Salinas Salto, for the student-run magazine Transfer. Part of what I said in response to one of her questions:
...this kind of arts organization work really needs to be done now by younger poets and artists of color.... So, what do we do, how do we organize the concerns of folks inside and outside this public resource, right?—to insist that, say, the university system does not keep pulling away the finances with one hand while the other hand is claiming to be doing the work of social and racial justice.... It doesn’t feel too far-fetched to speak of something like the future of, say, The Poetry Center and other kinds of public resources housed within public institutions like the university as fitting into visions of the long haul work of transformation being done by abolitionists.
That is, not so coincidentally maybe, very near where Erica Hunt’s Oppen Lecture landed us. If you can support us in pursuit of what needs to be done differently—by bringing forward poets and artists dedicated to necessary change and the work needed to do that; by helping to bring in new people, who will need backing, from outside and inside the university—please do.
We are grateful for your open ears, and your ongoing support. Thank you, as ever, and take care.


Steve Dickison, Director
PS: We’re working offsite, and encourage online donations.

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The Poetry Center/SFSU
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132

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