NEH Grant to UB Poetry Collection Will Save Important Poetry Recordings

Works by major national, international figures will be reformatted and made accessible

Release Date: March 10, 2009 This content is archived.


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An NEH grant will allow UB's Poetry Collection to digitize and catalog its collection of readings by some of the mid- to late-20th century's most distinguished poets.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Poetry Collection of the University at Buffalo Libraries has received a grant for $202,241 from the Preservation and Access Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities to reformat, catalog and make accessible 1,340 cassette and reel-to-reel audio recordings of poetry materials held in the collection.

The digitization and cataloging of these audio materials will further the Poetry Collection's mission to promote the study of 20th- and 21-century poetry written in English.

The recorded work dates from 1962 to 2000 and falls into three categories.

One is an archive of tapes from poetry readings, lectures and other unique events that took place in the Poetry Collection and elsewhere on the UB campuses. A second is an archive of personal recordings that poets made of their own readings over a period of time. The third includes libraries of tapes collected by various individuals and groups.

Michael Basinski, Ph.D., curator of the UB Poetry Collection says, "The tapes capture poetry readings, lectures, interviews, conferences and other literary events. They document both the development of innovative and avant-garde poetries and their communities throughout the second half of the 20th century, as well as Buffalo's role within that history."

He says the collection features readings by both canonical and non-canonical poets, among them 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.

"Poetry readings by their nature are spontaneous events that can differ drastically from one place and location to another," Basinski says, "and 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," he explains, "and provide a wide range of extra-textual information that is nonetheless crucial to understanding a poem's larger contexts of meaning.

"The project is unusual in that it will treat the recordings as audible manuscripts that testify to the composition and revision habits of poets. They also 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," Basinski says.

He says that poets often read different versions of a poem as they are working on a final version. In such cases the reading itself constitutes part of the creative evolution of the poem.

"Also, during readings, poets often comment on the work they are presenting," he says, "and those comments constitute additional scholarly information. All of this oral material now will be available to researchers who use the audio tool we will develop."

Basinski says the Poetry Collection's complete tape libraries of poets John Logan, Robert Duncan and Kenneth Rexroth will provide researchers with an important audio research tool and not just a sample of a poet's voice.

"In addition we will offer a complete indexing of the tapes and as much additional source and ephemeral material as we can discover.

"The Poetry Collection is directed and run by scholars," he says, "and our academic investigations will offer additional material and support to those interested in using our audio research tool."

"The result is," he says, "that 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 University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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