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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tourism for Locals: SF State's Poetry Center a Bay Area and National Archive

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 3:50 PM

The Pyramid of Knowledge..and Poetry - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • The Pyramid of Knowledge..and Poetry

It's common knowledge that poetry is one of humanities greatest, and oldest, art forms. And while we may enjoy reading poetry of some of our favorite poets, sometimes we love hearing poetry.

And even though it won't be possible to hear the original voices of those predating the age of audio recording, those from the last century are easily attainable, especially if you live San Francisco.

Yes, you can search the Internet for recordings of your favorite poets reading their work in their unique style but why binge-listen in the confines of your home when you can visit the Poetry Center and American Archives , which is also celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Located at San Francisco State University, this center is one of America's most long-lived and nationally renowned literary-arts institutions, having amassed more than 4,000 hours of original recordings of poets and writers reading from their works since the center's creation.

Shelves and shelves of books and letter! - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • Shelves and shelves of books and letter!

The collection of taped materials represents the second largest archive of literary recordings in the United States, next to the Library of Congress, according Matt Itelson, spokesman for the College of LIberal and Creative Arts.

Founded during the Beat era in 1954, the center represents a collective record of the past half-century of literary accomplishment in the United States.

The Beat Generation was a time where writers were reacting to the atrocities of World War II by creating a style of writing that was a rejection of societal standards and materialism and depicted experimentation with alternative sexualities, drugs, Eastern religion, and human banality.

The original "Beat Generation" writers initially met in New York, but in the mid-1950s, the central figures like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac ended up together in San Francisco, where they became integral to the San Francisco Literary Renaissance.

Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which was published by San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore, was the center of an obscenity trial in the United States that ultimately lead to publishing houses having more liberty in publishing new styles of writing that didn't fit the confines of mainstream American society when the poem was declared not obscene.

The Poetry Center at SF State has a recording of Ginsberg reading Howl at the center October 25, 1956, which is available for download in their digital archives.

But the center has more than just recordings. The space also has a wide range of physical hard copies of classic and contemporary literature that is available for your browsing pleasure. With plenty of chairs and tables, you get the feeling you are not in a library but an intimate world of endless literary portals. And, fun fact, there is an antiquities museum across the hall featuring a 3,500 year old Egyptian mummy.

The center also hosts free readings by Bay Area poets and authors every week during the regular academic semester.

The center and archives are located on the fifth floor of the Humanities Building, Rooms 507, 511 and 512.

So check out the center to admire the works of the greats and to get inspiration for your own work, especially sine April is national poetry appreciation month. As a send off, here are the opening words of Howl, Ginsberg's magnum opus:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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