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University at Buffalo Libraries

The Poetry Collection

The Poetry Collection’s Audio Archive Project

In 2009 the Poetry Collection received a $202,241 Preservation and Access grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a two-year project to reformat, catalog and make accessible 1,340 cassette and reel-to-reel audio recordings of poetry materials. Dating between 1962 and 2000, the recordings fall into three categories:

  • an archive of tapes from poetry readings, lectures and other unique events that took place in the Poetry Collection and elsewhere on the University at Buffalo campus
  • personal recordings that poets made of their own readings over a period of time
  • and libraries of tapes collected by various individuals and groups.

The digitization and cataloging of these audio materials will further the Poetry Collection’s mission to promote the study of twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetry written in English.

Capturing poetry readings, lectures, interviews, conferences and other literary events, these tapes document both the development of innovative and avant-garde poetries and their communities throughout the second half of the twentieth century as well as Buffalo’s role within that history. Readings by both canonical and non-canonical poets are featured in the collection, including such prominent American and international figures as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Basil Bunting, Robert Creeley, Diane Di Prima, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Graves, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, George Oppen, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Diane Wakoski and Louis Zukofsky.

Occurring as they do in a particular place and time and before a particular audience, poetry readings by their nature are spontaneous events that can differ drastically from one place and location to another, and the recordings of these events offer literary scholars and students in the humanities a host of highly significant resources for research and education. Audio recordings:

  • promote the study of poetry’s performance
  • provide a wide range of extra-textual information that is nonetheless crucial to understanding a poem’s larger contexts of meaning
  • function as audible manuscripts testifying to the composition and revision habits of poets
  • document the social contexts and literary communities in which poetry takes place
  • and offer an effective resource personalizing the experience of poetry for students of all levels.

Consequently, these tapes are potentially significant for all sorts of historical, biographical and genetic scholarship, and can serve an important pedagogical use in the classroom.

The expected results of this two-year project are the preservation of endangered audio recordings and improved access to them. Specifically, a third-party audio specialist has been contracted to reformat the recordings on our reel-to-reel and cassette tapes—which are currently inaccessible and uncataloged—into digital sound files. The new digital files will then be auditioned and item-level cataloging will be created for each item, with the records noting not just the titles of the poems read but information about the conversations that take place around them. Finally, local access to streaming versions of the recordings will be provided on site to comply with the stipulations of Section 108 of the Copyright Act. Where permission can be obtained from the relevant literary estates, wider access will be provided to anyone with access to the internet with the goal of making these recordings available to students, researchers and poets around the world.

While working on this project, we are soliciting additional audio materials for the Poetry Collection. Although we feature readings from around the country, we are especially interested in continuing to collect recordings of local poetry events in Buffalo and Western New York. If you would like to make such a gift of materials, please contact one of the curators at (716) 645-2917 or write to us at lpo-poetry@buffalo.edu.