Where Poetry Lives: Our Building

The Poetry Center is the best living room in America for reading poetry. –Steve Orlen

Imagine a space alive with light, where comfortable armchairs in quiet reading areas invite visitors to pause with a book of poetry. Imagine a vibrant community center where writers of national and international renown come to share their work with an enthusiastic public. You are here: at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the place where poetry lives.

The Helen S. Schaefer Building

Designed by Line and Space LLC, our 17,500–foot landmark facility brings a contemporary note to the University of Arizona campus. Architect Les Wallach employed a design principle called “a progression toward solitude.” As visitors move from west to east through the building’s meeting and gathering spaces, they experience a gradual retreat into the peaceful solitude of the library collection.

 Named in honor of leading arts supporter Dr. Helen S. Schaefer, the building has received prestigious design awards:

  • 2012 Honorable Mention, New Landmark Libraries, Library Journal
  • 2009 AIA Arizona Citation Award for Design
  • 2009 Tucson’s Favorite Public Architecture, Tucson Home
  • 2008 AIA Southern Arizona Award for Design
  • Southwest Contractor Best of 2008 Award for Interior Design
  • Arizona Masonry Guild 18th Annual Excellence in Masonry Design Award

Wallach’s belief that “the space where poems are housed is itself a sort of organism, or environment in which poets are made” is borne out in poetic gestures such as the unexpected paradox of a “turning wall” allowing filtered sunlight to enter the library.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center

Exploring the Center

Michael and Helen Dobrich Library
Ruth Stephan and Myrtle Walgreen Library Collection

One of the most comprehensive and fully accessible contemporary poetry libraries in the nation, the collection holds nearly 70,000 items, including books, journals, recordings, broadsides, and an archive of approximately 3,000 photographic portraits of poets.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center

Jeremy Ingalls Gallery

Library and art exhibitions are mounted throughout the year. Here you may view treasures from the Poetry Center’s Rare Book Room and vibrant visual work featuring Tucson artists as well as traveling exhibits. Permanent exhibitions include the “Wall of Poets,” images of visiting poets since 1962; a Leo Cherne bust of Robert Frost and a fifth-century B.C. Grecian Urn, both gifts of the late Stewart Udall; and archival materials from the estate of poet and scholar Jeremy Ingalls.

Housed in the Jency and Irving Yall Audio/Video Room, the collection features recordings of visiting poets since 1963. The growing digital collection is accessible on our website as of Fall 2010.

Children’s Corner

A haven for children of all ages, the Anika Burns Children’s Collection in the Children’s Corner features books of poetry for young people and pedagogical materials. It is also the site for the Poetry Center’s popular children’s program, Poetry Joeys.

L.R. Benes Rare Book Room

The climate-controlled Rare Book Room, accessible to the public with assistance from a librarian, holds special materials such as artist-poet collaborations, signed first editions, and works singled out for their age, aura, and physical beauty.

Peggy Shumaker and Joseph Usibelli Creative Writing Alumni Room

The Alumni Room offers an ideal space for The University of Arizona’s undergraduate and Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing classes and the Poetry Center’s Community Classes and Workshops. Students gather in the Copenhagen Lounge before and after class. 

Mary Dearing Lewis Garden

One of the finest places to encounter “the spirit of poetry” in solitude, as Ruth Stephan suggested, is this airy garden of bamboo and river rock. The Shelton Wall offers a literal interpretation of the term concrete poetry. A line of poetry from University of Arizona Regents Professor Emeritus (and former Poetry Center Director) Richard Shelton has been translated into binary code using the line and space of a concrete block wall.

Hillman Odeum

This outdoor amphitheater accommodates a range of community events, from performance poetry to student recitations. The stone benches east of the Odeum and in the Mary Dearing Lewis Garden are Coconino sandstone, brought to Tucson from Ash Fork, Arizona, and estimated at 270 million years old.

Dorothy Rubel Humanities Seminars Room

The Helen S. Schaefer Building is also home to the Humanities Seminars Program, a distinguished community program for adult scholars. Named for the program’s founder, the Dorothy Rubel Room houses Humanities Seminars as well as Poetry Center readings and lectures. The floor-to-ceiling glass doors may be opened to accommodate as many as 400 people.

The Poet’s Cottage

Adjacent to the Dorothy Rubel Room is a true “writer’s retreat”: a studio apartment used by visiting writers in the Reading and Lecture Series. The Poet’s Cottage also hosts the Summer Residency program for poets and prose writers.

Other Named Spaces in the Helen S. Schaefer Building:

Bert and Mary Darling Educational Wing
Miriam Endicott Emley Room
Aisling Room
Carol D. Whiteman Wall of Poets
Diamond Benches
Margaret E. Mooney Reading Area
Humanities Seminars Coordinator’s Office
Pearl Lenore Stinson Majors Computing and Library Information Center
Randall Rodman Holdridge Reading Area
Pauline Akins Rodman Reading Area
John Hudak, Jr. Memorial Bench

Arizona Board of Regents