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The Poetry Collection at the State University of New York at Buffalo: A Sketch

Charles Abbott, courtesy SUNY Buffalo

Charles Abbott, courtesy SUNY Buffalo

The Poetry Collection began in 1937 as “the poetry project” with a single directing principle: to collect first editions of poetry published in English in the twentieth century. The “project” began just after Thomas B. Lockwood donated his private library of rare books and private presses to the University, then the University of Buffalo. Lockwood’s collection is the foundation for The Poetry Collection. Charles D. Abbot (photo, right) formulated the principle and guided the project through its beginning years. The Poetry Collection was the first library to focus a collecting policy on first editions of twentieth century poetry, which included Canadian, British, Australian, and New Zealand poetry — in fact poetry written in English and in English translation. Mary Barnard served as the first Curator, 1939 — 1942. Abbott and Barnard wrote to hundreds of poets asking for the contents of wastebaskets and soon collected thousands of pages of worksheet, thus becoming the first library to collect the manuscripts of contemporary writers. W. H. Auden sent a large notebook, Wallace Stevens sent the pencil drafts of “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” and Marianne Moore sent drafts of early poems. Soon they began collecting little magazines, then bibliographical, biographical, and critical materials about twentieth century poets and poetry. The Poetry Collection quickly grew into a library devoted to the study of poetry that was well-suited for genetic criticism, following the course of a poem from first draft to magazine publication and then to book publication.

Twentieth Century News, 1938 item, courtesy SUNY Buffalo

Twentieth Century News, 1938 item, courtesy SUNY Buffalo

Remarkably rich collections of manuscripts were acquired: the notebooks of Dylan Thomas, letters of D. H. Lawrence, manuscripts and books of Wyndham Lewis, the manuscripts of William Carlos Williams, Robert Graves, and then the manuscripts and books of James Joyce (still the largest collection in any library). The Poetry Collection won an international reputation as a research library even as it continued collecting the manuscripts and library of Basil Bunting, Martin Seymour-Smith, Carolyn Stoloff, the archive of Sand Dollar Press, the archive of Hand and Flower Press, Athanor, and other archives of literary magazines.

The acquisition of the archive of The Jargon Society, with its publication of books by Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley and many others of the New American Poetry, led to the acquisition of the papers of Robert Kelly and the papers of Ted Enslin, the archive and library of Helen Adam, the archive of Paul Mariah, the archive of the magazine The Wormwood Review, and the papers of George Butterick and Michael Palmer.

The Poetry Collection houses just over 100,000 volumes of first editions, including a large collection of anthologies. Because it began collecting first editions in the 1930s when books were cheap, it now has a complete collection of the first editions of major writers like Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and H.D. as well as a myriad of lesser-known poets. The bibliographical, biographical, and critical materials about twentieth century poets and poetry support the collections of first editions. The Collection maintains about 2,000 runs of little magazines — or every major and many minor literary journals from 1900 to the present — and about 1,200 current subscriptions. It also maintains files of photographs, audio-tapes and video-tapes of poetry readings and interviews, announcements of poetry readings, and miscellaneous flyers and advertisements which often contain the elusive facts of literary history. Entering a new century in the year 2000, the directing principle was altered to read: to collect first editions of poetry published in English since 1900. By holding to this principle, The Poetry Collection has become a rich and interconnected research library.

The Poetry Collection
State University of New York, University at Buffalo
420 Capen Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-2200, USA

Tel 716-645-2917 | Fax 716-645-3714 | Mon. thru Fri. (9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.)

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