Listen to favorite recordings from the Poetry Center's extensive collection in a new podcast

Listen to favorite recordings from the Poetry Center's extensive collection in a new podcast

By Andy OberUniversity Communications
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Srikanth Reddy reads one of his poems at a Poetry Center event in 2015. The recording is part of the center's Voca archive. (Photo courtesty of the Poetry Center)
Srikanth Reddy reads one of his poems at a Poetry Center event in 2015. The recording is part of the center's Voca archive. (Photo courtesty of the Poetry Center)
"Poetry Centered" is a biweekly podcast featuring readings from the Poetry Center's vast Voca archive.
"Poetry Centered" is a biweekly podcast featuring readings from the Poetry Center's vast Voca archive.
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Julie Swarstad Johnson
Julie Swarstad Johnson

In a time of physical distancing, the University of Arizona Poetry Center is turning to the world of podcasting to continue Its mission to bring a robust culture of poetry to writers, readers and new audiences.

"Poetry Centered" is a biweekly podcast featuring readings from the center's vast Voca archive of audio and video recordings of poets reading their work. Each episode runs 20-40 minutes and involves a guest poet sharing their insights about three readings they have selected from the archive, as well as a reading of one of their own works.

"One of the things we're so excited about with the 'Poetry Centered' podcast is the way it connects contemporary poets with their poetic influences," said Tyler Meier, executive director of the Poetry Center. "Often, the host poet is able to share poets and poems that have been influential and meaningful to them in their own practice, and this highlights the depth of the center's audiovisual Voca archive."

Founded in 1960, the Poetry Center boasts one of the largest print/digital collections of contemporary poetry in the United States. The center is housed in the award-winning Helen S. Schaefer Building.

The guest hosts have plenty of poems from which to choose. The Poetry Center began recording readings in 1963. Over the decades, the center has amassed more than 1,000 recorded readings.

"Voca is such a huge collection – it can be really difficult for people to know where to start," says Julie Swarstad Johnson, senior library specialist at the center and producer of the podcast. "The thought with the podcast is we could get contemporary writers to choose some readings that are interesting to them and introduce them to listeners. The podcast is really focused on taking that incredible resource and making it accessible."

Johnson, also a poet, has written three books and has co-edited a collection of poems about space exploration set to be released in October.

The podcast's debut episode, "The Big Story of Life on Earth," is hosted by Alison Hawthorne Deming, Regents Professor of English. She served as director of the Poetry Center from 1990-2000.

She says hearing a poem – rather than just reading it – makes for a more powerful experience.

"Every poem is a work of art on the page, but is also a work of art that is oral," says Deming, who has published five books of poems and is working on a sixth. "You hear the music, the points of emphasis, the pacing. When you hear the poet read his or her own work, you feel the music of the poem."

She ultimately decided on recordings of Diane Ackerman reading a love poem for an extraterrestrial ("Ode to the Alien"), Cornelius Eady choosing gratitude as a response to anger and racial discrimination ("Gratitude"), and N. Scott Momaday describing a memorable encounter with artist Georgia O'Keeffe ("Forms of the Earth at Abiquiu"). She will also read one of her newest poems, "Territory Drive," which was written during this time of quarantine and isolation. The poem was originally published at Terrain.org.

Johnson says listener numbers have exceeded expectations, with about 2,000 downloads, three-quarters of them coming from outside Tucson.

The first season of "Poetry Centered" contains six episodes, with the final episode set to be released Sept. 9. Johnson says there are plans for a second season beginning in November, with hopes for a third season after that.

For articles and announcements from the Poetry Center, writing prompts and more, visit 1508 [a blog where poetry lives].

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