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Published 18 March 2013

Inside front cover, 'Poems 1984- v.' (Notebook P8, Brotherton Collections MS 20c Harrison)

Collage-like pages give unique insight into the Tony Harrison Collection

The papers of Tony Harrison are one of the highlights of our 20th Century literary collections. Harrison, one of Britain's leading film and theatre poets, has long standing connections with Leeds University, having taken his undergraduate degree here in Latin and Linguistics in 1958, and in 2004, having been awarded an honorary doctorate.

Cataloguing of the Tony Harrison archive is nearing completion, and the process has revealed a wealth of information about the collection, and Harrison himself. The collection currently comprises over 250 notebooks, 100 files, and thousands of letters. When we say current, the collection continues (we hope) to grow as long as Harrision produces new work. 

His notebooks are meticulously kept records of his working process and inspiration, containing pasted in photographs, labels and objects which have inspired him, as well as multiple drafts of poems, charting the complex evolution of his work. Files contain a wealth of material documenting the research and work that went into various projects; particularly his film and theatre work.  Press cuttings and reviews chart the reception of each piece.

Over 200 files of letters received throughout Harrison's career illustrate the wide variety of relationships formed with key figures from the fields of poetry, film, theatre and television. Cataloguing correspondence is often a strange experience, as you're seeing only one side of the story: Harrison did not consistently keep copies of his own letters, so we don't always know what he wrote. Sometimes, though, his letters turn up in other collections: our Alan Ross, Jon Silkin and Geoffrey Hill collections all hold correspondence from Harrison. These letters are a striking example of the interconnectedness of much of our material, where collections can seem to talk to each other.

Archival cataloguing is often a matter of balancing the need to provide enough information for the user to know what there is, without going into too much detail; we aren't able to do a researcher's work for them. However, with the Harrison collection, the real revelations come through examination of the details.  The layers of drafts, notes and collage-like pages of press cuttings, photographs, travel tickets and wine bottle labels, all give a unique insight into his working life. By illustrating the depth and breadth of the material, these details highlight the massive potential for literary research provided by the Harrison Collection.

The Harrison collection is available to consult in the Special Collections Reading Room.