The Poem Present Reading and Lecture Series at the University of Chicago invites distinguished contemporary poets to read from their work and present talks. Launched in 2001 by Danielle Allen, the current Dean of the Division of the Humanities, the series has earned a reputation in the Chicago poetry community for its engaging events, all of which are free and open to the public; however, their reach and impact extends beyond their local community because of their quickly growing online archive.
Since 2003, the Chicago Media Initiatives Group (CMIG) has captured each season of Poem Present in both digital video and audio formats for archiving on CD-ROM in the university library. In addition, CMIG built a website that provides streaming video and audio of nearly all readings and lectures in the Poem Present series. By recording and making Poem Present events available to anyone with internet access, organizers of the series have ensured a never-ending audience for their events, thus creating a vibrant afterlife for the series.
The program is still new, and most of the recordings are of contemporary poets, including Alan Shapiro, C. K. Williams, C. D. Wright, Mark Strand, Nathaniel Mackey, Lyn Hejinian, Kenneth Fields, Forrest Gander, and Alice Notley. One of the site's most downloaded poets is Robert Creeley, whose recordings were listened to in both audio and video formats nearly 10,000 times in 2006.
Most of the lectures include question and answer portions, offering audiences the rare chance to witness how a poet engages with the audience. The discussion often turns briefly to the poet's own work, referencing the reading accompanying the lecture.
Notable recordings include Mark Doty's close reading of May Swenson's "Question" and Allen Grossman's lecture on Hart Crane's "The Broken Tower."
One drawback of the site is its organization, an issue the series Coordinator Julia Klein hopes will be addressed in the coming years. The program has expanded faster than the site itself, and the result is an accumulation of material that could seem daunting to comb through. "Currently, the assistant for Poem Present is working on editing a selection of reading 'highlights' so that in addition to complete readings, website visitors will also have access to single poems," said Klein. "Though it is already quite broad, the range of poets we bring in will continue to expand and we look forward to making connections between Poem Present and other types of arts programming on campus."