The Sims Library of Poetry and Other Collections for Lovers of Verse

Curated and archived libraries are great resources for all things English language poetry

There are nearly countless forms of library archives and collections (for example, food and cookbook collections). But it might surprise some to know that there are libraries devoted to the centuries-old art of poetry. Even though the art form itself dates back to ancient times, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in both reading and writing it (as The Atlantic and USA Today recently reported).

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The newest member of this group is the South Los Angeles’ Sims Library of Poetry, which was founded by poet and educator Hiram Sims. It’s the first Black-owned poetry library in California. Sims officially opened the library to the public in the summer of 2021, but his efforts started years earlier. As a teacher, he’d asked students to read one book of poetry a week but soon realized that his students had trouble finding poetry books at the local library. His first solution was to start bringing a case filled with poetry books to class to loan out. Eventually, the collection outgrew the case and moved into his garage, where he found not just his students stopping by to browse, but other community members and poets. By the time Sims moved into his official space in 2021, the collection had more than 6,000 volumes, everything from limited edition small-press chapbooks to anthologies to full-length collections. Impressively, 90 percent of the collection was donated by poets themselves.

But Sims joined the ranks of other impressive poetry repositories, some of which are beginning to have some items digitized and available online:

The Raymond Danowski Poetry Library

 Located at Emory University, this collection is one of the largest poetry collections in the world. It has more than 85,000 volumes of rare and first editions of contemporary poetry, along with 50,000 literary journals and thousands of broadsides, recordings, manuscripts, and other items related to 20th-century poetry. Raymond Danowski collected these in his quest to have every English language poetry title that was published in the 20th century. Since Emory acquired it, the library system has continued pursuing that goal. The library offers public readings, digital projects, and related exhibitions for the public.

The Poets House Library

 New York City is home to this extensive collection of poetry written in or translated into English. The library holds more than 70,000 poetry books and related materials, including more than 10,000 chapbooks, and is working on digitizing many of them for public access in the future. Poets House also has an extensive multimedia archive, with CD and cassette recordings of poets such as Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, and Lucille Clifton.

The Poetry Foundation Library

Chicago’s Poetry Foundation is home to a significant collection as well, with 30,000 volumes. It’s not focused on a specific time period, as the Danowski collection is. Instead, the Poetry Foundation wants to collect what it considers the best poetry in English or recent translation, as well as representative pieces from other eras. Besides having poetry in various forms (broadsides, monographs, journals, rare editions), this library also has restored recordings of poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks. Visitors have access to the collections in a reading room, and there are also private listening booths for audio and video recordings.

The Archive for New Poetry

Located at the University of California in San Diego, the Archive houses more than 35,000 books and thousands of recordings, broadsides, and manuscripts. Here the focus is largely, although not entirely, on the New American poets, which were instrumental in developing more experimental poetic approaches since 1945.

The Poetry Collection at the University of Buffalo

This collection was founded in 1937 and currently holds one of the world’s largest collections of poetry first editions, little literary magazines, and anthologies, and more than 150 archives and manuscript collections from poets, magazines, and presses.

If poetry already interested you, or you’re new to it and intrigued, these carefully curated and archived libraries are great resources for all things English language poetry. Just remember to check their websites for updates in operations due to COVID-19 before you plan your visit. 

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