American Poetry Archives

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 public events for nearly six decades. We have compiled and maintained one of the most significant public collections in the USA of original recorded performances by poets and related writers reading their work. In 1974, poet Kathleen Fraser, serving as director, created within the Poetry Center, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Poetry Archives. This collection, together with the Poetry Center housed within the SFSU College of Humanities (Department of Creative Writing), today holds over 4,000 hours of unique original audio and video master-recordings, 1954–present – an inestimable cultural asset.

POETRY CENTER DIGITAL ARCHIVE —debuted in April 2011— makes available significant portions of early audio recordings from the Poetry Center's American Poetry Archives collection, supplemented by select archival texts and images. New files will be added incrementally as recordings are prepared and as we proceed through the collection from the 1950s onward.

Please note that individual requests cannot be honored at this time.

SFSU faculty who plan to offer courses involving Archives recordings not presently posted are asked to please contact the Poetry Center four to six months in advance.

Contact the Poetry Center.

POETRY CENTER DIGITAL ARCHIVE is a project in collaboration with DIVA (Digital Information Virtual Archive) at San Francisco State University, and is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

About our online catalog

Our online catalog represents a portion of the American Poetry Archives 4,000+ hour collection, and is centered on some 2,000 original video-recordings made from 1973–2002. Not included here are most early audio recordings, 1954–73, and recent digital video-recordings, subsequent to 2002. This listing is provided as a public service, and indication of the extent of the American Poetry Archives collection.

PLEASE NOTE: Because of technical issues involving ongoing access to fragile original master-tapes, frequently in antiquated formats, many of the recordings listed here are not readily available for general public access. While we are in the process of migrating our extensive collection online — a multi-year project — public access to recordings not yet available online must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

For specific inquiries contact the Poetry Center.


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 tapes provide documentation of the event as it occurs, and flaws in the original recordings do exist. Typically, these are unique recordings: no second takes, no splicing in or out, extremely few edits.

A Heritage & Preservation Grant from The National Endowment for the Arts contributed to the production of the online catalog (via a print version in 2002). The Poetry Center's public programs, the basis for these recordings, are supported primarily by Grants for the Arts-Hotel Tax Fund of the City of San Francisco, Fund for Poetry, College of Humanities, Instructionally Related Activities fund at San Francisco State University, and Friends of the Poetry Center.

To support our programs and our Archives Project
please make a donation.


Home | San Francisco State University © 2006