Tyler Meier has been named the new executive director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center....
Ensuring That the Voices Remain
The UA Poetry Center's audio and visual recordings archive, called voca, contains hundreds of recordings and, thanks to grant funding, is expanding.
Recall the first time you were enthralled by some artistic note. Perhaps it was the catharsis that came with a perfectly presented stage production or a consciousness-raising rap.
Having produced video and audio recordings of the Poetry Center's Reading Series and other events since the 1960s, the center's staff initiated an effort in 2006 to digitize the collection. Voca was born, and it went live online in November 2010.
"Through voca, we are reaching thousands more people around the country," said Gail Browne, the Poetry Center's executive director.
"That has allowed us to preserve recordings, and now we are able to disseminate those resources worldwide in a way we wouldn't have imaged," Browne said. "It has great value, and it will only get better."
Most recently, the Poetry Center has received two new grants – one from the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation and the other from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation – that will enable the digitization of more than 100 additional events this year. With those additional recordings, more than 600 will be available.
"Our grants have been very important to us. And this year, thanks to the two new grants, we will be digitizing more recordings," Wendy Burk, the center's senior library supervisor, said, noting that recordings cover genres such as poetry, prose, fiction and nonfiction.
"What's really exciting is we are hoping to be the first digital poetry archive of our kind and scope to have completed the digitization of all of our born-analog recordings," Burk said, adding that voca will continue to grow with 20 to 30 new recordings added annually.
"The question began with preservation, but it has turned into a wonderful way to provide access. In fact, preservation and access go hand in hand," she said.
Burk also noted that voca now has interactive features, like tagging and comment capabilities, enabling members of the public to help categorize the database. "To me, that really reflects the community engagement that the Poetry Center has always embodied," she added.
Among the recordings currently available online are readings by Gary Snyder a total of three times, in 1964, 1969 and in 2010. Lucille Clifton read at the Poetry Center five times. Among the center's one-time readers are Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Other readers include award-winning and internationally known writers and performers, including Ai, Michelle Tea, James Tate and Akilah Oliver.
UA alumnus Chris Nelson, who teaches at University High School in Tucson, uses voca in the classroom.
"Since moving here in 2000, the Poetry Center Reading Series has been my favorite of Tucson's cultural events," said Nelson, an award-winning poet recently named one of America’s “Best New Poets." Nelson earned a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the UA in 2011.
"The center consistently brings to Tucson the best poets, both established and up-and-coming. Spanning half a century, the voca archive is a significant contribution to contemporary literary history; a record of this kind is rare," Nelson also said.
Charles Alexander, founder of Chax Press and a faculty member who teaches English at both UA's main campus and UA South, has long been a fan of the Poetry Center.
Alexander was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1970s when he met the late Robert Creeley, an award-winning American poet. Alexander attended Creeley readings at locations in the Midwest. Then, about 10 years ago, at the UA Poetry Center.
Over the years, the two became collaborators and friends, with Alexander helping to publish some of Creeley's work and organize other readings in Tucson.
"Everything about his work – his craft, his voice, everything – is very integral," Alexander said. He appreciates that Creeley's readings are available via voca, saying that simply hearing Creeley read aloud adds an important dimension to understanding him and his work.
"His particular craft is all about the short lines, the hesitancy, the surprise moving from one word to another. it seems much like his way of being in the world and in being very open," he also said.
As such, listening to Creeley's readings, as with other recordings in voca, can also open up new emotional connections to authors and their works.
"It has helped me to learn how to read the work on the page," said Alexander, who also has relied on voca in his teachings.
"The first time I heard him read, I thought it was great," he said. "But continuing to listen over the years through voca has been great. It's such a great resource for being able to continue to listen, especially for people who never would have been able to hear the author live."
That was Jeevan Narney's experience.
Narney's appreciation for voca came after he found a 2008 reading by W.S. Merwin. Narney had been living in China at the time that Merwin read at the UA Poetry Center.
"One of the things that is wonderful about voca is its accessibility," said Narney, a masters of fine arts student in the UA's creative writing program.
Then, there is the storytelling.
"What's wonderful is that the authors talk about their work and the book comes alive. Sometimes they tell a story, or a joke and you get to have an understanding of their process," Narney said, adding that witnessing that process aids him in his own writing.
"Through voca, there's just a joy of listening, like you would a CD or audio tape," Narney said. "We are in that age where we are able to engage in the past on a much deeper level. That gives us the rich sense of connection to the past."