No Gloves in the Archive

Posted by Lee Hannigan

Back in September, the team met to outline projects and discuss goals for the year ahead. I was given the enviable task of working with Max Stein, Concordia alumnus and electroacoustic ninjaman, on the development of a robust calendar for the SpokenWeb interface, similar to iCal, that would display exactly when the SGW Reading Series events took place. We wanted the calendar to be searchable, to include visualization options, other readings and series that took place elsewhere in North America, as well as significant historical events, both local and international, that occurred between 1966 and 1974. The idea: that the calendar would provide an alternative method for users to search the Poetry Series and to visualize the series over time.

After an assessment of our metadata, Max and I discovered over twenty reading dates that were either unknown or unspecified, tagged with “date unknown” or “fall semester” or “Jan-Feb.” Venues were also a problem. A few days prior, Christine Mitchell, SpokenWeb’s Postdoctoral Fellow, had spoken about our “venue problem.” Like many Reading Series dates, a number of venue locations are either unknown or labeled vaguely. “Basement Theatre,” “Sub Basement,” “Mezzanine Gallery,” “Art Gallery” . . . Where is the “Basement Theatre”? Is “Sub Basement” the same as “Basement Theatre”? Is “Art Gallery” the same as “Mezzanine Gallery”?

Assuming the Sir George Williams newspapers between ’66-‘74 had advertised the Reading Series, I decided it was time to visit the archives. I sent an email to Christine to ask if I could tag along on her next visit, knowing that she’d been combing the archives for the past few months and was familiar with the procedures.

No problem.

I’d never been in an archive before, but had a good idea about what to expect, i.e. basement, yellow light, stale smell, white gloves, no photos, etc. etc.

Wrong.

I met Christine on the tenth floor (?) of the Hall Building on a Wednesday shortly after 9:00am, in a smallish, wonderfully lit and pleasantly scented room.

No white gloves?

Tenth floor?

Painted walls?

Caroline Sigouin, Concordia’s Records Management and Archives Technician, relieved my bewilderment.

Fifty-year-old newspapers = fragile.

Human fingerprints = traction.

No white gloves = fewer torn pages.

And the thing about basements? Turns out they’re an inappropriate location for storing artifacts, i.e. water runs downhill.

Once seated, Christine placed in front of me a lidded, rectangular box about the size of a newspaper.

I opened it.

Inside the newspaper-sized box? Newspapers. The Georgian, 1966/67.

I began flipping, fingerprints working great.

I was finding it difficult to focus. I was supposed to be looking for information about the Reading Series, i.e. dates, venues, etc., but was too fascinated by the newspapers themselves. These papers weren’t like papers. They were like a book. Literally, they were bound, ’66 through ’67, all of them, between two hard covers. So these didn’t feel like newspapers, more like a kind of encyclopedia. They were also yellow and stale (!) smelling. I was starting to feel like I was in an archive.

Turning the pages of a fifty-year-old newspaper elicits an unusual feeling. Hypnotic, almost.

Football. Sir George. Laval. Underdog. Injured. Frosh. LSD. Protest. Faculty. Concern. Sideburns. Poetry . . .

I finally hit on a notice for the Poetry Series.

Headline: “Poetry Readings Inaugurated.”

Body: There was standing room only Saturday night as the first in a new series of poetry readings began. The first poet to read in this series was John Wieners. Luckily, better poets will follow . . .

Apparently Kathleen Thoms (reviewer) wasn’t impressed by John Wieners. Was it his poetry? Was it the standing room only? Thoms writes that Wieners was too “conventional” and “concerned about his identity” for her liking. At any rate, I was interested. Here was an audience member, with two clapping hands, who left an account of her experience. Did Thoms applaud Wieners despite her dissatisfaction? Did she stay for the duration of the reading? Who did she sit next to? Who did she speak to? Did she ask a question during Q&A? Was there Q&A? What happened after the recording was stopped? Did she take notes? What did she think of Phyllis Webb and Gwendolyn MacEwan, who read “in the coming weeks”? Did she attend? Did she write a review? What other readings did she take in? Where is Kathleen now? Is she available for an interview?

The search continues. And it seems that every blank filled creates two new ones. Take the Thoms review: In the coming weeks the appearance of Phyllis Webb, William Hawking and Gwendolyn MacEwan will provide more enjoyable evenings. Who is William Hawking? Does Thoms mean William Hawkins, the songwriter and poet from Ottawa? Why is there no record of his reading? Has it been misplaced? Was he unable to read? If so, was he replaced by another poet?

The Georgian really fills out the Poetry Series landscape. I think we’re on the right track. The theatre, the chandelier, the newspapers – what else it out there, and how can we braid it into the information we already have surrounding the Poetry Series?

Wait.

What is a poetry series?

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