UT’s Ransom Center acquires archive of famous poet Billy Collins


The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas has acquired the archive of poet Billy Collins, the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

The archive of Collins, who’s widely viewed as the most popular and well-known poet in the United States since Robert Frost, includes materials about his personal and professional life from the 1950s to the present. The archive has dozens of notebooks, desk diaries and datebooks that document his life as a teacher, poet and public figure. It also includes childhood compositions, family photographs, letters and audio and video recordings of his speeches. The $425,000 purchase was made possible by private contributions.

“At the center of the papers are journals and diaries in which I compose poems,” says Collins via telephone from Key West, Fla., where he’s attending a writers workshop. “I compose by pencil or pen, almost always in a journal. And I put the poem through up to six or seven drafts … so that the journals are filled with poems in various stages.”

Collins, 72, says he sold the archive to the Ransom Center because of “its indisputable reputation, its prestige, its fame. It’s quite exciting to think of my papers coming to rest alongside so many powerful writers who have influenced me.”

The center holds extensive archives that include such poets as E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton and Dylan Thomas.

“Collins is one of a very few poets whose poems are widely read,” said Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss, “and it is a great pleasure to extend the center’s holdings in this way, with the archive of a poet beloved by readers everywhere.”

Collins, a frequent guest on National Public Radio, is the kind of poet who can fill a theater like Austin’s Paramount, and that’s what he’s expected to do at 8 p.m. Thursday, when he’ll read some of his poems.

“This is a happy coincidence,” Collins says of the timing. “The performance has been on the books for some time, and the Ransom Center acquisition is much more recent, but we managed to work out a schedule to visit the Ransom at the same time I’m in Austin.”

Collins describes his poetry as “plainspoken.”

“A typical Billy Collins poem starts out in a straightforward way, with simple diction and syntax,” Collins says. “That’s an effort to invite the reader into the poem. Once the reader steps into it, I hope the poem gets a little more complicated and moves into areas of ambiguity and even mystery. … I like to be transported to a mysterious place, not thrust into one.”

Collins’ books include “Pokerface,” “Video Poems,” “The Art of Drowning,” “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” and his most recent, “Aimless Love.” He founded the Mid-Atlantic Review with Michael Shannon in 1975 and is a professor of English at Lehman College, of the City University of New York, and a distinguished fellow at the Winter Park Institute.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Insight and Books

TWO VIEWS: Democracy? Bag it, say the Republicans
TWO VIEWS: Democracy? Bag it, say the Republicans

The urgent love Texas Republicans feel for plastic bags is a mystery. Let’s look, though. Maybe there’s a clue in the trail left by former Texas congressman Tom Loeffler all the way back in the 1980s. The game is afoot — literally. As a candidate for governor back in 1986, Loeffler confessed that he had worn plastic shower caps on...
Letters to the editor: Jan. 22, 2018

Re: Jan. 18 article, “Expo Center trimmed from PSV’s list of Austin MLS stadium sites.” The possibility of Butler Shores being decimated for a soccer stadium worries me. I am absolutely against such a move. These negotiations appear to be similar to the bullying of Austin that Uber and Lyft attempted. Butler Shores, at the confluence...
TWO VIEWS: Why Supreme Court should rule against bag ban
TWO VIEWS: Why Supreme Court should rule against bag ban

Shoppers might soon discover that the grocery store is less expensive and more convenient. Two weeks ago, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case questioning the legitimacy of municipal bans on plastic bags. If justices reaffirm an appellate court ruling, consumers will be unburdened from this clear example of government overreach. At...
Opinion: What is the real message of #MeToo?

The feminist website Babe published an account of a date gone bad. The pushback has been swift and sharp. I share some of the concerns of the critics, but I also think young women are sending a message that is being missed. The account by the anonymous “Grace” about a bad date with comedian Aziz Ansari was, if not “3,000 words of...
Lacking minorities, state boards are ill-prepared to serve all Texans
Lacking minorities, state boards are ill-prepared to serve all Texans

Gov. Greg Abbott should look at fairness, justice and best practices — along with qualifications — in making appointments to state boards and commissions. Given his record, that clearly is not happening. If those measures were used, Abbott’s appointments would better reflect the ethnic, racial and gender diversity of Texas. They don&rsquo...
More Stories