Welcome to the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University, a special collections reading room and audio archive at Harvard University. The Poetry Room features a circulating collection of 20th and 21st century English-language poetry, an encyclopedic array of poetry journals and literary magazines, a landmark collection of audio recordings (1933 to the present), and the Blue Star collection of rare books, broadsides, chapbooks, typescripts and ephemera.
Founded in 1931 in Widener Library, in honor of Harvard alumnus, poet and scholar George Edward Woodberry (1855-1930), the Poetry Room is now housed in the Lamont Library in a room designed by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1949.
The centerpiece of the Poetry Room is its collection of sound recordings. With over 6,000 recordings on a range of media that span the 20thÂ and 21stÂ centuries--- including phonodiscs, magnetic tape (reel to reel and cassette), CDs, DATs, and born digital---the collection is one of the largest poetry-specific sound archives in the world. The archive’s importance is in no small part due to the pioneering work of Harvard Professor of Rhetoric Frederick C. Packard, Jr., founder of the Harvard Vocarium record label (1933-1955). In 1933, Packard launched the Vocarium by making the first recording of T.S. Eliot, during the poet's year-long stay in Cambridge as the Charles Eliot Norton lecturer. One of the first recording labels of its kind, the Harvard Vocarium went on to produce (and the Poetry Room in turn curated and preserved) some of the earliest recordings of W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Brother Antonius, T. S. Eliot, Randall Jarrell, Weldon Kees, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, Anais Nin, Ezra Pound, John Crowe Ransom, Theodore Roethke, Muriel Rukeyser, May Sarton, Stephen Spender, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams. During the War, the Poetry Room also played a vital role in preserving British recordings, which were shipped to Harvard throughout the Blitz.
In the Postwar years, during the curatorship of John ("Jack") Lincoln Sweeney, the Poetry Room became a nexus for poets who would later be associated with the New York School of Poets, the Poets Theatre, the Beat movement, and Confessional poetry. The Poetry Room also forged a significant collaboration with the British Council. Live readings and studio recordings from the mid-century include the circuit tours of E.E. Cummings and Dylan Thomas and the performances of emerging poets John Ashbery, John Berryman, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Jean Valentine, John Wieners, and the first recording of Sylvia Plath (who recounts her meeting with curator Jack Sweeney in her diaries). The Poetry Room was also responsible for making the Cambridge-era recordings of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as some of the earliest recordings of the Polish emigre (and later Nobel laureate) Czeslaw Milosz. In the Cold War period, many recordings were sent out the U.S.S.R. to be housed here, including early (now readily available) recordings by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam, and Boris Pasternak.
The 1970s and 80s saw the founding of the Harvard Review by the then curator Stratis Haviaras and the revival of poetry readings and community gatherings at the Poetry Room itself. During this lively period, Haviaras recorded a wide array of poets representing a broad range of late 20th century poetics: among them, Charles Bernstein, Clark Coolidge, Rita Dove, Robert Duncan, Jorie Graham, Donald Hall, Seamus Heaney, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Gary Snyder, and Derek Walcott. Haviaras was also responsible for creating a substantive archive of contemporary Greek-language recordings, featuring such authors as George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.
The Woodberry Poetry Room's audio collection is, according to Seamus Heaney, "indispensable: it contains not only the voices—from different times of their lives—of the greatest poets, but constitutes a living history of modern poetry."
This vital tradition continues today with a rich assortment of poetry readings, seminars and workshops, as well as significant efforts to preserve and digitize the Woodberry's pivotal recordings for generations to come. The Woodberry Poetry Room celebrates poetry as an intellectual pursuit and sensory experience; as a textual encounter and an auditory phenomenon, as a solitary meditation and as a source of solidarity and social life. In the many roles that the Woodberry Poetry Room plays and the countless communities it serves, the room could be said to be an "enormous room" (to quote Harvard alumnus E. E. Cummings). We welcome you to visit the Poetry Room in person or to encounter it virtually through our online Listening Booth.
The Woodberry Poetry Room's audio collection comprises over 6,000 recordings, including unique recordings produced by the Poetry Room and the Harvard Department of English, early collaborative recordings made in conjunction with the British Council, as well as the audio archives of the Academy of American Poets and the Aspen Writers' Conference. In addition to these recordings, the Poetry Room also provides access to an extensive number of recordings by early recording pioneers, independent studios and commercial recording companies from around the world. Our recordings include readings, lectures, informal conversations, oral histories, interviews, radio broadcasts and, more recently, answering-machine poems. The Poetry Room also houses a growing collection of poetry-related films and documentaries in DVD and VHS formats.
Thanks to a generous donation from Bob Hildreth and a pilot study by the NEDCC, the Poetry Room has undertaken to preserve these invaluable recordings for generations to come. For highlights from our ambitious (and on-going) digitization initiative, we invite you to peruse our online Listening Booth. To search for our recordings via HOLLIS, type the name of the author(s) you are interested in and press "search." You can then use the sidebar on the right to filter your search by Format (e.g., "Sound Recording") and Location (e.g. "Poetry Room (Lamont)"). To browse the entire archive of sound recordings unique to the Poetry Room, type "poetry" in the search box, then filter by Format (Sound Recording) and Author (Woodberry Poetry Room).
The audio-visual collection is accessible by arrangement with the curator at (617) 495-2454 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Recordings must be listened to in the Poetry Room, unless digital access is provided through HOLLIS.
The Blue Star collection is a non-circulating collection of rare or limited-edition monographs, chapbooks and broadsides. Highlights from the Blue Star collection include typescripts of poems by Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke's annotated edition of Rilke's Duino Elegies, a cigar smoked by Amy Lowell, broadsides signed by Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Ginsberg, archival photographs of Robert Frost, Marianne Moore and Ted Hughes and portraits by Larry Rivers, as well as first (or signed) editions of works ranging from John Ashbery to Louis Zukofsky. Click here, for an overview list of Blue Star materials (pdf).
The Blue Star collection is serviced by the Houghton Reading Room. Photocopies of materials that are not fragile (or whose duplication is not prohibited) can be made on request for a fee and as staff time permits.
The Woodberry Poetry Room circulating collection presents highlights from 20th and 21st century English-language poetry and poetry in translation. In addition, the room features a non-circulating collection of current poetry journals from across the country and around the world, which are free to be perused by all visitors. The books and serials are shelved in the creative and comfortable setting of the Poetry Room, with views overlooking the majestic Memorial Church and Harvard Yard.
To search our circulating collection via HOLLIS, type the name of the respective author or text and narrow down your search by selecting "Location: Poetry Room (Lamont)" in the sidebar.
Listening Copies Permissions: If you are interested in requesting a listening copy of a Woodberry Poetry Room recording for academic purposes, you must apply for advanced permission from the pertinent copyright holder(s). Once written permission is obtained from the publisher/estate, the curatorial staff will begin to process your listening copy request. For all Academy of American Poets recordings (on deposit at the Poetry Room), additional permission must be obtained from the Academy. In addition, the Poetry Room cannot copy materials that were originally produced by a commercial entity. We reserve the right to refuse requests that cannot be filled due to the fragility of master recordings, staff time limitations, or other constraints.
Broadcast and Reproduction Permissions: If you are seeking to broadcast or commercially reproduce a Woodberry Poetry Room recording, you must receive advanced permission from the pertinent copyright holder(s). Once written permission is obtained from the publisher/estate, the curatorial staff will begin to process your listening copy request. For all Academy of American Poets recordings (on deposit at the Poetry Room), additional permission must be obtained from the Academy. In addition, the Poetry Room cannot copy materials that were originally produced by a commercial entity. We reserve the right to refuse requests that cannot be filled due to the fragility of master recordings, staff time limitations, or other constraints.
For more information, please contact the curator Christina Davis at (617) 495-2454 or via email at email@example.com.
The WPR Creative Fellowship invites poets, writers, multimedia artists, and scholars of contemporary poetry to propose creative projects that would benefit from the resources available in the room and to generate new work that further actualizes the Poetry Room's collectionsâ€”particularly the audio-video archive. In addition to conducting research and pursuing projects, the WPR fellow will be asked to present a works-in-progress event in conjunction with the Poetry Room’s public programming season and/or to contribute a work or drafts (produced during the fellowship) to the WPR archive. The recipient is expected to work on-site at the Woodberry Poetry Room for at least 10 days during the Harvard academic year.
The first recipient of the WPR Creative Fellowship was Fanny Howe, who used her 2014-2015 funding to revise and produce three short films. The Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2015-2016 Creative Fellowship is Eileen Myles. She will receive a stipend of $4,000 to support her project, “About Boston.” She plans to be in residence in Cambridge and on campus throughout the month of April 2016. Two additional WPR Creative Grants were also given to Dan Beachy-Quick for his project, “A Quiet Book,” and Chris Mustazza for his project, “The Birth of the Poetry Audio Archive: The Vocarium Recordings and The Speech Lab Recordings.”
The WPR Creative Fellowships and Grants are generously funded by the Dr. Michael & Teresa Anagnostopoulos Fund. The next deadline for application is: January 15, 2016. The application can be found at: http://form.jotform.us/form/41923273972157
The Poetry Room is open to all Harvard students, faculty, staff, alumni, visiting scholars and members of the public (with a valid photo ID). Members of the public must sign in at the Lamont Library security desk and indicate that they are visiting the Woodberry Poetry Room.
The Poetry Room is only open on weekdays. For our specific hours, please check our up-to-date schedule prior to your visit:
For additional questions or to schedule a time to access specific materials, please contact the curatorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Davis, Curator
Mary Walker Graham, Assistant Curator
Phone: (617) 495-2454
This site was created by WPR staff members Christina Davis and Chloe Garcia Roberts, and Odile Harter (Ph.D. candidate in the Harvard Department of English), with the instrumental assistance and vision of Enrique Diaz (Web Developer). Additional thanks are given to the staff of the Media Production Center at Harvard; David Ackerman and Bruce Gordon (Audio Preservation Engineers); Susan Pyzynski (Associate Curator of Technical Services, Houghton Library); and to Daniel Gross (Harvard '13) for the "Woodberry Poetry Room" artwork on the Homepage.