Poetry Centered features curated selections from Voca, the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s online audiovisual archive of more than 1,000 recordings of poets reading their work during visits to the Center between 1963 and today. In each episode, a guest poet introduces three poems from Voca, sharing their insights about the remarkable performances recorded in our archive. Each episode concludes with the guest poet reading a poem of their own.
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Transcripts for each episode are available here. Click on the episode title, then click on the transcript tab at the bottom of the player. Poems are transcribed as read and do not represent the published work.
5.1 Why Write
Wendy Xu curates poems that underscore the necessity of attention for the writing of poems, reminding us that to write is to think, to look, and to be present. She introduces James Tate on bending reality through attention to everything (“Rescue”), Mei-mei Berssenbrugge on the connection between the spiritual and the somatic (“Hello, the Roses”), and Joyelle McSweeney on being unafraid of excess (“Percussion Grenade”). Xu closes with her poem “Why Write,” which engages with the past as a living, risky force.
5.2 Necessary Discomfort
Anthony Cody selects poems that ask hard questions about war, borders, gender, power, US history, and ourselves—questions asked in order to remind us of the discomfort necessary for change on individual and collective levels. Cody shares Pat Mora’s inversion of relationships between speaker and audience, pursuer and pursued (“La Migra”), Michael S. Harper’s use of staccato repetition to sear atrocity into memory (“A White Friend Flies in from the Coast”), and Diana García’s revelation of truths that span generations (Excerpts from “Serpentine Voices”). Cody closes with his translation of Juan Felipe Herrera’s “Dudo las Luces / I Question the Lights,” which draws attention to the forgotten in our political landscape.
Chet’la Sebree leads us to acknowledge liminal spaces, those places that are not quite one thing or another, moments of transition and not-yet that have become so familiar to us throughout the pandemic. Sebree introduces Camille T. Dungy’s recognition that grief relentlessly intrudes on joy (“Notes on What Is Always with Us”), Brenda Shaughnessy’s reflection on the difficulties of understanding time (“Three Summers Mark Only Two Years”), and Ada Limón’s transformative rendering of relationships (“What I Didn’t Know Before”). Sebree closes with a new poem of her own on liminality, “Blue Opening.”
5.4 A Particular 'Us'
Sara Borjas introduces poems that focus on the connections between a particular, collective ‘us’—people connected by lineage or language, by place, or by the acts of writing and reading. She shares Layli Long Soldier’s exploration of wholeness and mother-daughter relationships (“WHEREAS her birth signaled…”), Juan Felipe Herrera’s centering of people and complexity (“Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way”), and Richard Siken’s breaking of the fourth wall to implicate the reader (“Planet of Love”). To close, Borjas reads her poem “Narcissus Complicates an Old Plot,” a celebration of mothers and daughters, language, and community rooted in place.
Khadijah Queen homes in on her selections by following three keywords through the archive: disobedience, Detroit, and joy. She introduces Rachel Zucker’s lecture on the confessional mode in poetry (“What We Talk About When We Talk About the Confessional and What We Should Be Talking About”), francine j. harris’s lyric dense with complicated emotions (“katherine with the lazy eye. short. and not a good poet.”), and Monica Sok’s poem of gentle power in the face of trauma (“The Woman Who Was Small, Not Because the World Expanded”). Queen closes by reading “Declination,” which approaches her chosen keywords through the lens of making art.
You can also find a reading by Khadijah Queen on Voca, which was given in 2016.
5.6 Poems for Passengers
Matthew Zapruder selects poems that employ the powers of song, memory, and imagination as points of reflection and comfort amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He shares Adam Zagajewski conjuring a life lost to his family (“To Go to Lvov”), Gerald Stern recognizing the fortunate circumstances of his domestic and writing lives (“Lucky Life”), and Li-Young Lee traversing his own psychic landscape (“I Loved You Before I Was Born”). Zapruder closes by reading his “Poem for Passengers,” which celebrates public spaces and the momentary relief from differences they can afford.
You can also watch a reading by Zapruder for the Poetry Center from 2019.
4.1 A Blazing Intensity
Joanna Klink curates poems that blend dream and waking, sparking ordinary life with visionary fire. She shares Jon Anderson wrestling with the desire to walk away (“In Autumn”), Sherwin Bitsui’s haunting epic of water (“Flood Song”), and Linda Gregg’s dreamscape of life without loneliness (“Alma to Her Sister”). Klink closes by reading her poem “On Diminishment,” an intimate, interior landscape of silences and withheld speech.
You can find the full recordings of Anderson, Bitsui, and Gregg reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
Adrian Matejka reflects on cruelty as manifested in American institutions, history, private lives, and the public realm of the past year. He opens with Ai’s invocation of the human hunger for violence (“Cruelty”), Lucille Clifton’s deft blending of imagery and wisdom (“cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty”), and Al Young’s meditation on American cruelty as it begins with slavery (“The Slave Ship Desire”). To close, Matejka reads his poem “Somebody Else Sold the World,” which considers the complexities of cruelty in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
You can also watch a 2016 reading by Adrian Matejka on Voca.
4.3 A Sonic Roadtrip
Adam O. Davis selects and shares poems that engage with journeys—across time, through mystery, into the past, or to shape a future. He introduces Nathaniel Mackey meditating on eternal questions (“Glenn on Monk’s Mountain”), Maurya Simon reminding us that the dead surround and sustain us (“El Día de los Muertos”), and Robert Creeley poignantly speaking across time (“I Know a Man”). Davis closes by reading his poem “Interstate Highway System,” his own plea for living sparked by a 2015 road trip across America.
You can find the full recordings of Nathaniel Mackey, Maurya Simon, and Robert Creeley reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
Nathaniel Mackey with jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell (2013)
Maurya Simon (2019)
Robert Creeley (1963)
Check out Davis’s Index of Haunted Houses Hotline by calling 619-329-5757.
4.4 Writing About Writing
Silvina López Medin introduces poems that reflect on the writing process and the openings we encounter therein when boundaries blur between speaker and listener, creator and creation. She shares Robert Hass on going to the movies and Greek rhetorical devices (“Heroic Simile”), Adélia Prado on the earthy charms of poetry (“Seduction,” read by Prado’s translator Ellen Doré Watson), and Anne Carson on making marks (“Short Talk On Homo Sapiens”). López Medin concludes with her poem “I Am Writing This in My Head, My Hands Inside Gloves That Don’t Match,” which considers how the lost lingers in what remains.
You can find the full recordings of Hass, Prado as read by Watson, and Carson reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
Robert Hass (1979)
Adélia Prado, read by her translator Ellen Doré Watson (1992)
Anne Carson (2001)
4.5 Odes to the Overlooked
Sumita Chakraborty curates poems that draw our attention to the overlooked: to the body’s cycles, to cruelty, to deep attention, to trauma and what comes after. She introduces Lucille Clifton on accepting change and growth (“to my last period”), Ai on the link between violence and loss (“Cruelty”), and Nora Naranjo Morse on vulnerability as potential blessing (“Sometimes I Am a Sponge”). Chakraborty closes by reading her own exploration of the complexities of PTSD, written to an extraterrestrial audience: “The B-Sides of the Golden Records, Track Five: ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.’”
4.6 The Possibilities
Eduardo C. Corral introduces recordings by poets who create and encourage possibilities for others through their inquisitive teaching, their artistic commitment to mystery, or by being fully themselves. He celebrates Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s dedication to delight and surprise (“The Possibilities”), Bei Dao’s inscrutability for the way it affirms the human condition (“Landscape Over Zero”), and Francisco X. Alarcón’s generous spirit and embodiment of what a poet can look like (“Ode to Tomatoes”). To close, Corral reads his poem “To Francisco X. Alarcón,” delving into the impact this elder poet has had on his own writing life.
3.1 A Speaking Voice
Francisco Aragón shares poems alive with the vibrancy of a particular voice addressed to a particular audience. He introduces Francisco X. Alarcón’s bittersweet homage to a poetic ancestor (“Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón”), Thom Gunn’s farewell address to a beloved fellow writer (“To Isherwood Dying”), and Denise Levertov’s mythic, ecstatic monologue on transformation (“A Tree Telling of Orpheus”). Aragón concludes the episode with a direct address of his own that challenges Arizona’s SB 1070 (“Poem with a Phrase of Isherwood”).
3.2 Belonging and Being
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke curates poems by writers who have influenced her own writing through their creative leadership, mentoring, or poetics of belonging. She introduces Juan Felipe Herrera’s invitation to a spirit of generosity and care (“Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way”), Quincy Troupe’s musically attuned tribute to his father (“Poem for My Father”), and Arthur Sze’s transformative vision that unites intelligence with grace (“Adamant”). To close, Hedge Coke reads her poem “Ghost,” acknowledging the role voices from the past can play as educators for the living.
You can also watch a celebration of Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (2011), an anthology edited by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, on Voca.
3.3 Whistle, Hum, and Heartbeat When Negotiating Identity
Peggy Robles-Alvarado introduces poems that embody complex identities with honesty, exuberance, and strength. She shares Toi Derricotte’s frank look at the experience of shifting from woman to mother (“Delivery”), Judith Ortiz Cofer’s reckoning with leaving childhood behind (“Quinceañera”), and Ada Limón’s celebration of self-worth and self-pride (“How to Triumph Like a Girl”). Robles-Alvarado concludes with her own poem “Stunting,” a piece sparked by exploring the archive and reflecting on the restorative power of poetry.
3.4 The Poem, Listening
Bojan Louis shares poems that embody deep listening and engagement with particular realities. He introduces Alan Dugan’s grasp of each moment’s truth (“Love Song: I and Thou”); Layli Long Soldier’s poetry of image, witness, and ways of being (“WHEREAS her birth signaled…”); and Angel Nafis’s critical song that speaks to community (“Ghazal to Open Cages”). Louis closes with a recently published ghazal (“Ghazal VI”) of his own.
Listen to a 2019 reading by Bojan Louis on Voca.
3.5 Bodies, Presence, Performance
Rosa Alcalá curates poems in which the body plays a central role as a performing presence. She selects and shares Roberto Tejada’s exploration of control and surrender (“Sun bursting as in water beads”), Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop’s stereophonic collaborative poem (“Light Travels”), and Black Took Collective’s daring, experimental performance piece on race and racism (“Betraying Blackness”). Alcalá concludes by reading her poem “You in Cutoffs,” which looks back at the self in the past, a body lifted above a crowd.
2.1 Instruments for Change
Randall Horton introduces poems that ask us to consider intensely difficult situations, seeing anew their complexity and the humanity of the people involved. He discusses Reginald Dwayne Betts’ exploration of the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic and mass incarceration (“The Invention of Crack”), Brian Turner’s masterful use of point of view (“2000 lbs.”), and Patricia Smith as an example of the way that poets can be instruments for change (“Sitting in my dimly lit cell…”). Horton closes by sharing his poem “Dear Aesthetic Beauty,” paired with music in a collaboration with guitarist Brendan Regan.
2.2 Showing Up in Our Own Lives
Oliver Baez Bendorf shares recordings of poets that encourage him to “show up in [his] own life” through both their poetry and the way they themselves move through the world as thinkers, activists, and people. He celebrates Trish Salah’s intelligence and generosity of mind (“Tiresias as Cuir (on the run)”), CAConrad’s expressiveness of voice and connection to the body (“I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead”), and Ching-In Chen’s call to reconsider histories (“dear story of a risk, 1878.”). Baez Bendorf closes by reading a poem written this summer, titled “Michigan,” inspired by the life and work of transgender activist Sylvia Rivera.
Listen to the full recordings of Salah, CAConrad, and Chen reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
Trish Salah (2017)
Ching-In Chen with the Thinking Its Presence Board (2017)
2.3 Sound and Story
Michelle Whittaker presents recordings of poems that display their writers’ skill with both narrative and sound as they each consider the body as a site of conflict and grace. Whittaker considers the way Robert Hass employs sound to communicate strong emotion (“A Story About the Body”), connects with Ellen Bryant Voigt’s memories of seeing a family member’s scars (“Lesson”), and celebrates Michael S. Harper’s reflective pairing of narrative tension and cycling sounds (“The Borning Room”). To close, Whittaker reads her poem “In the Afterlight,” itself a complexly layered composition of sound and image.
2.4 Echoes of Yi Sang
Jack Jung shares poems in which he hears echoes of the themes, musicality, and imagery of Korean modernist poet Yi Sang. Shadow selves recur in each selection: Jung introduces early recordings of James Tate in 1968 on sparring with his shadow (“Shadowboxing”) and W.S. Merwin in 1969 reading a mythical poem about anti-creation (“The Last One”). He also discusses Sawako Nakayasu’s playful, desperate poem in which ants become a double of humans (“Battery”). Jung closes with his translation of Yi Sang’s “Crow’s Eye View, Poem No. 15,” which considers our shadow selves and provides what Jung calls a “much-needed lyrical recognition of our failures and suffering .”
Listen to the full recordings of Tate, Nakayasu, and Merwin reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
2.5 Quotidian, Transcendant
Cynthia Cruz introduces poems that mingle “the everyday with the mystical, the unreasonable,” the poems' meaning and beauty transcending the words themselves. Cruz considers the urgency of the quotidian in Denis Johnson’s “The Monk’s Insomnia,” the magical life a poem can carry within itself in Jon Anderson’s “Fox,” and negation as a place of beginning in Orlando White’s “Ats'íísts'in.” To close, Cruz reads “Hotel Letters,” a poem from a forthcoming collection.
Listen to the full recordings of Johnson, Anderson, and White reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
2.6 Not a Melody, but a Thorn
Douglas Kearney discusses recordings that give rise to reflections on human interaction and the potential for both connection and violence held there. Kearney introduces Rosa Alcalá as she uses found text to chart the shape of violence (“Are You Okay?"), Martín Espada as he encounters “reeling hyper-reality” in the courtroom (“City of Coughing and Dead Radiators”), and Ai as she pushes the limits between understanding and sympathizing with cruel narrators (“Abortion”). Kearney ends by reading a poem sparked by Fred Moten’s essay “Black Kant.”
You can also find readings by Douglas Kearney on Voca, including his most recent with percussionist/electronic musician Val Jeanty, which was given as part of the Thinking Its Presence conference in 2017.
2.7 The Hinge of Possibility
Jane Hirshfield curates poems that look into the abyss with brave clarity and complex humility. Hirshfield shares Eavan Boland’s probing into the place of shadows that history passes by (“Quarantine”), Miroslav Holub’s reminder that there is life and meaning beyond human precision (“Brief Thoughts on Exactness”), and Tomas Tranströmer’s marrying of the visionary and the vernacular (“Vermeer”). Hirshfield closes by reading her poem “Day Beginning with Seeing the International Space Station and a Full Moon Over the Gulf of Mexico and All Its Invisible Fishes.”
Listen to a 1995 reading by Jane Hirshfield on Voca.
1.1 The Big Story of Life on Earth
Alison Hawthorne Deming introduces recordings of Diane Ackerman reading a love poem for an extraterrestrial (“Ode to the Alien”), Cornelius Eady choosing gratitude as a response to anger and racial discrimination (“Gratitude”), and N. Scott Momaday describing a memorable encounter with Georgia O’Keeffe (“Forms of the Earth at Abiquiu”). Deming also reads a new poem written during this time of quarantine and isolation, “Territory Drive,” originally published at Terrain.org.
Listen to the full recordings of Ackerman, Eady, and Momaday reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
1.2 Ada Limón: A Way Forward
Ada Limón shares poems that speak to finding a way forward through moments of crisis and struggle. She discusses Lorna Dee Cervantes on being courageous enough to be alone (“Crow”), the enduring relevance of poems written in a particular moment, like Mark Wunderlich’s “Peonies,” and Lucille Clifton’s anthem on need, defiance, and making it up as we go (“won’t you celebrate with me”). Limón closes by reading her poem “The End of Poetry,” published this spring in the New Yorker.
1.3 Hanif Abdurraqib: A Brilliant Unfurling
Hanif Abdurraqib presents poems that offer listeners an invitation to reflection via rich details, repetition, and rhythm. He discusses his admiration for Ross Gay’s tenderness (“To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian”), shares a long poem by Juliana Spahr that creatively engages with the political (“Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache”), and praises Yona Harvey’s tenderness and nuanced understanding of violence (“Hurricane”). Abdurraqib closes by reading his poem “Someone Brought You into This World and Someone Can Take You.”
1.4 Urayoán Noel: Radical Imagination
Urayoán Noel introduces recordings of Ai engaging with war through necessary fury (“The Root Eater”), Lehua M. Taitano composing a lifeline to communities living with the legacies of colonialism (“A Love Letter to the Chamoru People in the Twenty-first Century”), Ofelia Zepeda on the untranslatability of song (“Ñeñe'i Ha-ṣa:gid / In the Midst of Songs”), and a fable of radical imagination by Gloria E. Anzaldúa (“Nepantla”). Noel ends the episode with his poem “Molecular Modular,” built around open-ended questions considering virality and modes of community.
Listen to the full recordings of Ai, Taitano, Zepeda, and Anzaldúa reading for the Poetry Center on Voca:
Lehua M. Taitano with the board of Thinking Its Presence (2017)
Ofelia Zepeda (2015)
Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1991)
Listen to a performance by Urayoán Noel on Voca, presented as part of the Thinking Its Presence conference in 2017.
1.5 Maggie Smith: A Conversation with Our Own Minds
Maggie Smith approaches poems as a poet’s best teacher in this episode, calling poems “a conversation we have with our own minds.” Smith shares a poem by Donald Hall that shaped her early days of writing (“Gold”), a Lynn Emanuel poem that she prizes for its perfection of word choice (“Stone Soup”), and a prose poem by Jenny Boully that engages the listener through its forward momentum (“Tether”). Smith closes by reading her poem “Ohio Cento.”
Listen to a 2018 reading by Maggie Smith on Voca.
1.6 TC Tolbert: Deep Presence
TC Tolbert shares recordings that express a willingness to be deeply present, including a poem by Akilah Oliver that records intimacy with grief (“Selections from the Putterer’s Notebook and ‘An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet’”), a poem by Rigoberto González that brings exquisite specificity to a migrant’s narrative (“The Bordercrosser’s Pillowbook”), and a Marie Howe poem that demonstrates the power of staying with a constraint for as long as you can (“Magdalene—The Seven Devils”). Tolbert closes by reading “Dear Melissa,” an epistolary poem to an earlier self.
Listen to a 2011 reading by TC Tolbert on Voca.
1.7 Bonus: Inspiring K-12 Students with Voca
Teaching artists from the Poetry Center’s Writing the Community program offer ideas for using recordings from Voca to inspire K-12 students. Kristen E. Nelson discusses the benefits of using a simple, concrete parameter—such as writing about the moon—for younger students. She shares moon poems by Al Young (“Excerpt from ‘About the 22 Moon Poems’” and “Moon of No Return”) and a student at Miles Exploratory Learning Center. Lisa M. O’Neill discusses the power of using lists and other forms of everyday writing familiar to students as an entry point to help students feel comfortable with writing poetry. She introduces a list poem by US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (“For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet”) and shares two list poems written by students at the CAPE School that came out of an assignment inspired by Wang Ping’s poem “Things We Carry on the Sea.”
Learn more about the Poetry Center’s education programs by visiting the Poetry Center online and clicking on the “Education” tab.