Harry Ransom Center obtains poet Billy Collins’ archive

Kate Dannenmaier

Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins didn’t start publishing poetry until he was already in his 40s — but now, even writings from his early childhood will be available at the Harry Ransom Center. 

Collins, now 72 years old, is one of the most widely read poets in America. Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, said Collins’ agent offered to add the expansive archive to its collection. The archive contains photos and compositions from Collins’ childhood, as well as diaries, datebooks, recordings and drafts of poems. 

Enniss said the Collins archive will be a worthy addition to the center’s poetry holdings.

“Billy Collins is a rare poet whose work has attracted a wide popular audience, and, at the same time, he has been recognized with some of the highest honors a poet in this country can earn,” Enniss said. 

Collins’ popularity has not made him immune to criticism. English professor William Scheick, who disagrees with Collins’ approach to poetry, said he still finds his work engaging.

“Collins is simply wrong about the nature of language, especially in narrative forms,” Scheick said. “Even so, Collins is clever, invitingly readable and, so, a delight to accompany into the experiences he celebrates.” 

English professor Kurt Heinzelman said he believes Collins’ work is important to the world of poetry.

“Billy Collins has given poetry a popularity and a performative stature that has been lacking since the time of Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost,” Heinzelman said.

Enniss said Collins’ collection of notebooks would be one of the more engaging features of the archive once it were to become available to patrons of the center.

“Certainly Collins’ manuscript notebooks, in which he works out the shape of a new poem, are some of the most fascinating things in the archive,” Enniss said.

The archive will be available at the Ransom Center once all the documents have been processed and catalogued.