Behind the Scenes of Poetry Centered


During these past months of the pandemic, the Poetry Center staff has been working hard to bring pieces of the Poetry Center to you at home. One recent effort is Poetry Centered, a podcast featuring guest curated selections from Voca, our online archive of more than one thousand recorded poetry readingsone of our landmark collections. The first episode of Poetry Centered is available now, hosted by Alison Hawthorne Deming and featuring recordings of Diane Ackerman, Cornelius Eady, and N. Scott Momaday.

Poetry Centered reflects efforts by many people at the Poetry Center as well as by the host poets. It first relies on years of work by library staff to create and maintain Voca, a tremendous and ongoing effort. Tyler Meier is responsible for the idea for the show, and he and Diana Delgado have done a fantastic job of curating our guest hosts. From their homes across the country, our hosts explore Voca and choose recordings that move them in some way. In their living rooms, kitchens, or wherever they can find a moment of quiet, they record their insights to share with you.

Then, in my living room here in Tucson, I start to put the pieces together. I listen to the hosts’ recordings and take notes on key ideas to use in the episode titles and show notes. I pull up the archival tracks from Voca, write and record a brief introduction to each episode, and finally, edit all of the clips together using Garageband. By the end of an editing session, the show’s theme music runs on endless repeat in my mind, along with particularly potent snippets of the poems. Working on each episode teaches me something new—about how to really hear a poem, how to place a poem in context, how to let the sound of it just wash over me. Many of the episodes introduced me to recordings that I’ve never heard before despite working with Voca for over five years, a testament to the hours upon hours of poetry Voca holds.

Whether you are already a lover of poetry or new to the artform, Poetry Centered aims to surprise, delight, and challenge you. Our guest hosts choose a wide variety of poems and poets, from an expansive array of backgrounds and aesthetics: You might love some poems and dislike others, you might be baffled by one and enchanted by the next, and that’s okay. I hope you’ll come away from each episode of Poetry Centered with new ways to listen and to think about both language and the world, and that you’ll join us again next time for another adventure in the archive.

Special thanks to Sarah Gzemski for her work to publicize Poetry Centered.