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Collection St. Mark's Poetry Project Audio Archive

About this Collection

Funded by money originally earmarked for the socialization of juvenile delinquents, the newly formed Poetry Committee declared St. Marks Church-in-the-Bouwerie in Manhattan’s East Village as their new home.  Among the founders was poet and translator Paul Blackburn, whose commitment to the shared experience of poetry prompted him to capture readings on a tape recorder. These recordings initiated the Poetry Project archive of recorded poetry. To this day, several readings a week are held and recorded at St. Mark’s.

By the time the Poetry Project was officially organized as a non-profit community of poets, the notion of poetry as live performance had taken hold.  Since its founding in 1966, the Poetry Project has been recognized by poets, and increasingly by scholars, as one of the most important poetry institutions in the country. The oldest independent literary center in the U.S., it has nurtured poets and poetic movements central to the evolution of post-War American poetry through a combination of live readings, performances, lectures, events, and workshops, in addition to literary and critical publications and an emerging writers program. Functioning as a small-press publishing nexus as well as the leading poetry performance space in the country, the Poetry Project has seen and heard nearly every notable American poet in the last fifty-five years.

In 2007 the Library of Congress acquired The Archive of the Poetry Project; its availability now offers an unparalleled opportunity for researchers at the home of the Poet Laureate and as one of the nation’s leading poetry collections. The Poetry Project’s publication and administration files contain correspondence, poetry manuscripts, and editorial materials from many of the most significant poets of the last century. With approximately 4,000 hours of audio and video recordings of readings and performances dating from 1966 to the present, the Poetry Project Archive also offers one of the largest collections of recorded poetry and literature in the country. Featuring live readings by poets and writers ranging from Robert Lowell to John Cage, Amiri Baraka to Alice Walker, Allen Ginsberg to Billy Collins to Jessica Hagedorn, the Project’s audio archive complements the already substantial holdings of the Library of Congress’ Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.

While serving as Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky challenged Americans to “trust the sound of poetry.”  Poetry is meant to be heard, he claimed -- to be performed. Because of this, he launched the extremely successful Favorite Poem Project. Thousands of Americans across the country gathered together to read aloud. It was, in essence, a tribute to the decades of American voices heard on the lower east side in an old church – poets doing what they do – giving voice to their words.

This release of 420 recordings from the Poetry Project represents approximately 15% of that collection’s holdings at the Library of Congress. We will continue to release additional recordings to the public as we seek and obtain the necessary permissions.