I had been meaning to put this up on the site for a while—here’s a copy of our ARRE Grant proposal for the “Performing the Archive” reading series.
Performing the Spoken Word Archive: Poetry Performance, Past and Present
Overview of Proposed Research-Related Events:
We propose four interrelated events of poetic performance and critical discussion that will explore questions arising from our SSHRC RDI-funded research project, “SpokenWeb 2.0: Conceptualizing and Prototyping a Comprehensive Web-based Digital Spoken-Word Interface for Literary Research,” in collaboration with the Concordia-based Synapse reading series (curated by Creative Writing Prof. Sina Queyras). “SpokenWeb” has used digitized live recordings of the Sir George Williams University (SGWU) poetry reading series from 1965-1974, featuring performances by major North American poets, to investigate best practices in the development of a web-based digital spoken word archive for use in literary research. Synapse is an ongoing reading series in Montreal designed to foster dialogue between established writers and emerging and student voices across disciplines and genres. The “Performing the Spoken Word Archive” event series we propose will introduce historically-situated poetry readings from the 1960s and 70s contained in the SpokenWeb sound archive into a live event structure, in order to interrogate the binaries between archive and live repertoire, generate critical discussion around the meaning of poetry performance (past and present), and to explore new modes of making the temporally-closed archive publicly relevant in the present.
The significance of this project arises out of the need to address the impact of sound recording in both literary study and archive theory, and interrogate the categories of “closed” and “open” archives in the digital age. The “archival turn” of the early 1990s saw a conceptual shift away from viewing the archive as a mute, stagnant repository toward its embodiment as a living, speaking system. Questions surrounding the potential public uses of SpokenWeb archival materials have arisen in the first year of our RDI grant, and have emerged as a major research axis to be included in a second phase, SpokenWeb SSHRC Insight Grant (IG) application we are preparing, with an expanded research team, to submit this fall. The present application represents a case-study for elements of the research axis we are proposing for the SSHRC IG program. The poetry events we propose will explore questions surrounding Jacques Derrida’s idea that “archivization produces as much as it records the event” (Archive Fever). By structuring live readings in relation to audio selected from the SGWU poetry series archive, and staging both sources of performance as materials for public critical discussion, we will pursue answers to questions about the status of the poetry event as an aesthetic object and as a form of historical knowledge.
Objectives and Expected Outcomes:
The primary objective of our application is to curate a coherent series of poetry events that stage questions about archived performance in relation to live performance. Our proposed “Performing the Spoken Word Archive” series will host four events between April, 2012, and January, 2013, which will be divided into two separate event categories. The first category will be a pair of “ghost readings” in which recordings from the SGWU poetry series will be played for a live audience in a venue significant to that historical series. The goal of this category of event is to allow the audio materials to move beyond the limits of the archive and again become performance, in a sense, to realize through audio technology the “embodiment of the poem in time and space” (Peter Middleton, “The Contemporary Poetry Reading,” in Close Listening). These readings will also feature projected visualizations of the waveform developed specifically for listening analysis by the applicant’s SSHRC ITST research team. Following each of these played “readings”, a panel consisting of literature scholars, archivists and historians from the developing SSHRC IG team—including myself, Sina Queyras and Dr. Darren Wershler (Literary Studies), Annie Murray (Archives and Special Collections), Dr. Elena Razlogova (Digital History), Dr. Steven High (Oral History)—will discuss questions of oral performance, sound visualization, historical recordings and critical listening in specific response to the collective listening experience that had just occurred.
The second category of event will feature live readings by two poets, George Bowering and David McFadden, who performed in the original SGWU poetry series, combined with related archival audio from the series and organized critical discussion. Vancouver-based poet and novelist Bowering was writer-in-residence and then faculty member at Sir George Williams University from 1967 to 1971, and an important curator of the SGWU poetry series. He introduced many of the readings archived in the series and himself read in 1974. Bowering is the recipient of two Governor General Awards for poetry and one for fiction, and is the author of more than ninety books. David McFadden has published over fifteen collections of fiction and poetry and has been a nominee for the Governor General’s Award and the Griffin Prize for poetry, among other honors. McFadden read for the SGWU poetry series in 1971.
For these “live” events, in keeping with the Synapse series’ mandate of student participation, undergraduate students will introduce and contextualize portions of the poets’ original archived readings and articulate questions that arise from their engagement with the archival materials. After the student presentations, the invited author will deliver a poetry reading, followed by a panel discussion and Q & A (open to the audience), moderated by myself and Sina Queyras, focusing on questions about the significance of poetry performance and the import of the spoken word archive for literary research. A committee consisting of Profs. Camlot and Queyras, and one graduate student RA, will oversee the selection of undergraduate student participants in each event and will assist them in the preparation of their presentation materials.
For each event we will produce print programs of approximately 25 pages that will contain general information about relevant sound recordings, accompanying documentary images from the archive, selected research essays emerging from the SpokenWeb project by members of the SSHRC RDI team, student-generated critical commentary and “close listening” responses to the event’s recorded audio materials, and, in the case of the “live readings”, a selection of poems from each of the visiting poets.
While all four events will serve as public forums for the discussion of the spoken word archive in relation to the live poetry reading, central to both types of event proposed are questions of reception. We intend to use all four reading events (both “ghost” and “live” readings) to collect information about literary reception and how listening impacts upon the semantic and affective import of poetry. To this end, oral interviews will be conducted (by student research assistants) at all four events in order to document audience members’ responses to the readings. Eventually, recordings of these interviews will inform decisions about another proposed “oral history” research axis connected with the SSHRC IG project.
Target Audience and Participants:
All four events will be open to Concordia University students and faculty, as well as the general public, and will be held on-campus. We will advertise the events widely within the city of Montreal.
• Event 1 (2012): March 9- Open call for undergraduate student participants / March 16- Committee meeting with students to discuss selections / March 30- Readers and their selections announced / April 7- Reading event featuring George Bowering.
• Event 2 (2012): September 14- Announce ghost reading event / September 28- First ghost reading event.
• Event 3 (2012): November 2- Open call for undergraduate student participants / November 9- Committee meeting with students to discuss selections / November 16- Readers and their selections announced / November 30- Reading event featuring David McFadden.
• Event 4 (2013): January11 – Announce ghost reading event / January 18- Second ghost reading event