Using Literary Recordings as Scholars and Digital Designers
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
5 April – 6 April 2013.
SpokenWeb will be hosting a two-day conference to be held at Concordia University, Friday, April 5 – Saturday, April 6, 2013. This mini-conference invites scholars and digital developers to engage directly with the recordings of “The Poetry Series” and to present work that explores either methodological or technical approaches one might take—as literature scholars or digital developers—to such documentary literary recordings.
As a critical/creative constraint for participation in this conference we have asked presenters to engage directly with some facet of the primary-source audio held in our archive and made available via the SpokenWeb site. Lit papers may build upon ongoing work about specific authors who read in the series, avant-garde poetics, literary performance, etc., by integrating specific examples from The Poetry Series, or may perform substantial close-listenings of particular documented performances in the archive. From the tech side, we have encouraged presentations and demos of methods or tools useful for annotating, searching, visualizing or otherwise manipulating the digitized audio recordings, using audio from The Poetry Series as test data.
Suggested topics to explore in the original CFP included:
- Close Listening Methods
- Methods for historicizing the Poetry Reading Series in the 60s and 70s
- Avant-Garde Performance
- Meta-Poetic Discourse (intros and poetry banter)
- The Poetry Reading as Oral Pedagogy
- Defining a Prosody of Poetic Performance
- What We Look at When We Listen
- What Literature Scholars Do When They Listen
- Tools for Searching Spoken Word Audio (i.e. Sound Searching)
- Theories and Methods of Transcription
- Audio Annotation
- Audio Visualization
- Audio Navigation
- The Limits of The Audio Timeline
- Pitch, Amplitude and Other Features
- Web-based DAWs (digital audio workstations)
- Touching Sound (the haptic web and sound visualization)
- Controlled Vocabulary, subject-index schemes, collaborative tagging, etc. for poetry/literature
For more information on this conference, please email the SpokenWeb team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, April 5th, 2013
10:00 AM - 10:30 AM
Jason Camlot (Concordia U) & Darren Wershler (Concordia U),
"Opening Remarks: Discerning the Poetry Series"
10:45 AM - 12:15 PM - PANEL 1
Tanya Clement (U of Texas at Austin), "Sound Seeings: High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship"
Annie Murray (Concordia U) and Jared Wiercinski (Concordia U), “Making Sense of Sound: Hearing, Seeing and Touching a Web-Based Audio Archive"
Max Stein and Liban Ali Yusuf (Concordia U), "SpokenWeb Developments"/"Automatic Detection of Poetic Devices"
12:15 – 1:00 PM - LUNCH (in house), PARTY SANDWICHES!
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM - PANEL 2
Danny Snelson (U Pennsylvania),"Speaking, speaking, speaking: bill bissett live, in vinyl, on MP3"
Lee Hannigan (UBC, Okanagan), "Robin Blaser’s Audiotexts and the Challenges of Archiving Conversation"
Dean Irvine (Dalhousie U and Yale U), "Mission Control: An Operator's Manual for Compulibratories"
2:45 PM – 4:15 - PANEL 3
Jane Malcolm (U de Montréal), “the poem among us, between us, there”: Rukeyser’s meta-poetics and the communal soundscape”
Jeff Derksen (SFU), "Secret Publicity, Social Sincerity, and the Politics of Affect: Oppen’s Post-Vanguardism"
Karis Shearer (UBC, Okanagan), “Daphne Marlatt, Making Public(s).”
8:00 PM – 10:00 PM - POETRY READING at the VAV Gallery (VA 037), 1395 Blvd. René Lévesque
Featuring: A soundscape installation by Steph Colbourn and performances by Gregg Betts, Lee Hannigan, Danny Snelson, derek beaulieu, Deanna Fong, Jeff Derksen, Michael Nardone, Karis Shearer.
Saturday, April 6th, 2013
9:30 AM – 11:00 AM - PANEL 4
Cameron Anstee (U Ottawa), "'Opera, Theatre, Ballet, etc.': The Canada Council Learns to Fund Poetry Readings (1959-1974)"
Ashley Clarkson (Concordia U) and Steven High (Concordia U), “Playing with Time: Digital Oral History and Literary Studies in the SpokenWeb Project.”
Michael Nardone (Concordia U), "'Unstrung, the structure is sound': Jackson Mac Low’s Language Event and Archive
11:15 AM – 12:45 PM - PANEL 5
Gregory Betts (Brock U), "'i want nothing to do with me': Finding Nothing in the Avant-Garde Archive"
derek beaulieu (Mount Royal U/Alberta College of Art and Design), "Charles Reznikoff and Conceptual Writing"
Deanna Fong (Concordia U), "Concentric (Counter)Publics: Embodiment, Confession and Vocalization in Allen Ginsberg's 1969 Reading"
12:45 PM – 1:30 PM: Closing Remarks
Jason Camlot and Darren Wershler
Participants / Abstracts
Cameron Anstee (University of Ottawa)
"'Opera, Theatre, Ballet, etc.': The Canada Council Learns to Fund Poetry Readings (1959-1974)"
In 1959, the Canada Council funded a poetry reading series for the first time. The Contact Poetry Readings received $845.00 “to provide travel and assistance to Canadian poets to present readings of their own work at the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto” (Third Annual Report). Poetry readings were infrequent in Canada up to this point and funding infrastructure to sustain a poetry reading series did not yet exist. Given the rarity of such events, the young Canada Council (founded in 1957) did not have an appropriate category under which to offer financial support. Consequently, the Contact Readings were funded under “Opera, Theatre, Ballet, etc.” Following the rapid growth and rising popularity of poetry readings in Canada during the 1960s, the Canada Council responded by creating a new category, “Public Readings by Canadian Writers” in 1972. During the final year of The Poetry Series at Sir George Williams in 1974, a staggering sixty three organizations, academic institutions and independent poetry reading series received funding under this category; ninety five received funding the following year.
This paper will document and analyse the development of the Canada Council’s funding model as it pertained to poetry readings in Canada from the time of the Contact Poetry Readings in 1957 to the end of The Poetry Series in 1974. This will provide useful historical material context for understanding the development of poetry readings from disparate and infrequent to organized, sustained, and common. The poetry reading became an important form of literary expression in Canada during these decades, and the role of the Canada Council in supporting and facilitating such events must be documented and acknowledged. This paper will examine available correspondence relevant to funding decisions, applications and project descriptions from relevant poetry reading series, and annual reports from the Canada Council. It will assess how the Council attended to funding English and French-Canadian poets, as well as American poets. This work will be primary in nature, establishing a historical framework within which to pursue further critical scholarly analysis focused closely on The Poetry Series. This paper aims to historicize the material and socio-cultural conditions that enabled a poetry reading series as ambitious as The Poetry Series to succeed between 1966 and 1974.
Derek Beaulieu (Mount Royal University/Alberta College of Art and Design)
"Charles Reznikoff and Conceptual Writing"
Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States 1885-1890 Recitative (New Directions, 1965; excerpts of which Reznikoff read at SGWU in 1967) and Holocaust (Black Sparrow, 1975) are lyrical precursors to a series of Conceptual engagements with the Holocaust. As part of his SGWU reading, Reznikoff performed Testimony ‘s “Domestic Scenes I” (p.13), “Boys and Girls 5” (p. 57) and “untitled” (p. 35) each of which he contextualizes as “are all based on law cases. Ah...I don't know what...whether that'll excuse their ferocity, but apparently something like that once happened. The names are different. The facts are the same.”
Reznikoff was called to the bar but never practiced law, yet he lifts language directly from cases in the public record. Vanessa Place—who is an appellate criminal defence attorney specializing in violent sexual predators—uses similar compositional strategies in her Tragodia 1: Statement of Facts (Blanc, 2010).
Heimrad Backer’s nachschrift (1986; English translation 2010)—written supposedly without knowledge of Reznikoff’s efforts—also recontextualizes primary documents from the Holocaust, but while Reznikoff uses testimony from the Nuremberg and Eichmann Trials, Backer uses primary document from the Nazi party.
Robert Fitterman’s Holocaust Museum (Veer, 2011) uses the caption and the label to draw attention to the absent, the eradicated and the missing. With Holocaust Museum Fitterman transcribes the labels given to archival photographs in the online collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org) eliding the photographs entirely.
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes referred to trauma as “a news photo without a caption.” Barthes argues that the photograph cannot be isolated from the event that it portrays. We do not see the photograph itself, we only see the image portrayed on the photograph. The photograph represents events without representing itself, an event portrayed without a means of discussing or categorizing.
Gregory Betts (Brock University)
"'i want nothing to do with me': Finding Nothing in the Avant-Garde Archive"
My paper will address the act of disavowal as both a common theme and a gesture in avant-garde aesthetics and will further comment on the problem of archiving or remembering works (and readings) marked by such an anti-philosophy. I take my cue on disavowal from Derrida’s discussion of various resistances to analysis wherein he claims that categories of truth (especially as established by psychoanalysis, but also, by extension, literary analysis and archivization) can be disputed convincingly only through disavowal, which ruptures the possibility of a truth claim from within. It is a useful frame in which to identify a recurring theme in Canadian avant-garde writing in the 1960s and 1970s that consistently explores the notion of discovery or uncovering an abyss of nothingness within language of the poem they are writing: thus, Gerry Gilbert proposes that when the “the silence arrives at the fact” the presence of this absence enables “a single uninterrupted poem / by means of the most direct and shortest image” (“Metro”). Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems with its erotic minimalism presents a similar anti-Imagism that marks the creative act with or by its own withdrawal: “You took with so much gentleness my dark”. Withdrawing darkness is different from asserting presence, however, for it declares an ontological erasure at the heart of writing. For both Gilbert and Webb, the poetry performs a disavowal in the erasure of imagery and language. In the Sir George Williams readings, both of these writers read works that articulate a similar strategic disavowal – including, specifically, a disavowal of work, performance, and the community of those gathered to hear them. What particular challenge does this essential disavowal pose to scholars and archivists seeking to represent these events, these performances, and these naked – denuded – works?
Jason Camlot (Concordia University) & Darren Wershler (Concordia University)
"Opening Remarks: Discerning the Poetry Series"
Ashley Clarkson and Steven High (Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Concordia University)
“Playing with Time: Digital Oral History and Literary Studies in the SpokenWeb Project.”
For the past year, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Concordia University has been exploring the intersections between oral history, literature and the digital humanities. The SpokenWeb project, headed by Jason Camlot of the Department of English, aims to develop a Digital Spoken Web Archive from a recovered collection of audio recordings made of a series of public poetry readings from 1965 to 1974. However, it is so much more than a database building project. Surviving poets are being invited back to Montreal to read anew in a public series. Digital audio extracts of the earlier readings are woven into these public events, creating a sense of dialogue across time. The resulting temporal flux creates an atmosphere that is very conducive to self-reflexivity and life review. Meanwhile, at the back of the room, a memory clinic invites audience members to record their reflections on the sensual and embodied experience of listening to and seeing someone perform their poetry, then and now. Participating poets such as George Bowering and David McFadden also recorded lengthy life history interviews earlier in the day, contributing further to the sense of time passing. How these components will be represented in the digital archive is still an open question.
As the paper’s title suggests, the project has placed oral history into sustained conversation with literary studies and the digital humanities. The notion of “oral literary history” that is emerging from the project acknowledges the significance of experiential accounts of these public readings which are historical and cultural events. The proposed paper aims to explore the ways in which the project works across platforms – from online environments to physical spaces – to generate spaces of individual and collective life review, reciprocal sharing, and deep listening. The SpokenWeb project promises to make a significant theoretical and methodological contribution to digital oral history practice. As Alistair Thompson once remarked, digital applications or environments “enable anyone, anywhere to make extraordinary and unexpected creative connections within and across oral history.” (Thompson, 2007).
Tanya Clement (University of Texas at Austin)
"Sound Seeings: High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship"
Poetry, stories, and speeches aren’t just what we read or what we hear-- they're how we make meaning and celebrate history. Hundreds of thousands of spoken text audio files - including poetry readings, Native American stories, and presidential speeches - remain untapped in archives throughout the world. These digital artifacts hold our oral traditions, and projects like High Performance Sound Technologies for Analysis and Scholarship (HiPSTAS) out of the University of Texas’s School of Information and the Illinois Informatics Institute feature high performance data mining tools that help us visualize and understand our sound culture in new ways. Our understanding of the spoken word has been limited not only by technology, but also by our imaginations. This discussion will consider how the emergence of new data mining techniques and visualization software can help us to preserve culture and improve access while facilitating new literacies that foreground how we "read" sound.
Jeff Derksen (Simon Fraser University)
"Secret Publicity, Social Sincerity, and the Politics of Affect: Oppen’s Post-Vanguardism"
In this talk I will approach poetry readings as a moment of publicness engaged in the imagination of counter-publicness rather an event within an established or static public sphere. I will link the publicness of poetry to Sven Lutticken’s assertion that “Art media as counter media would not be simply semi-public specialist forums, distinct from publicness at large, but avant-garde attempts to forge a different publicness, a counter publicness” (Secret Publicities 30). To do this, I will speculate on George Oppen’s 1968 reading at SGWU as a form of counter-publicness that takes place “on the grounds of a radical dissent from the dominant view of publicness, and the society it represented” (Lutticken 30). However, I hope to locate Oppen’s counter-publicness within his poetics as a form of social sincerity that sought to refigure subject-object relations. In terms of a poem and a reading, this involves a breakdown of producer and audience that figures poetry as a participatory art practice which Boris Groys argues “weakens the radical separation of artist and audience to a certain degree” (Going Public). Sincerity, as a political affect, is moved outside of the psycho-historical subject and placed in a space between producer and audience; imagined in this way, sincerity is a social relation that exists between subjects in social space and as a force that offers an alternative value to a neoliberal subject. This alteration of subject-object and producer and audience begins to define, I hope to argue, a post-vanguardist practice which is itself at odds, today, with dominant forms of publicity.
Later I will try and think through “sincerity” and this externalization of it in relation to affect theory, but now I want to give us two political (rather than aesthetic or moral) historical markers of the return of sincerity.
This shift is also a proposes a respatialization of poetry readings as a spatial practice
So, what I am proposing is poetry understood (in its writing and reception) as research, and research as a public act.
Deanna Fong (Concordia University)
"Contiguous Counterpublics: Embodiment, Metonym and Vocalization in Allen Ginsberg's 1969 reading at SGWU"
Analyzing Allen Ginsberg’s 1969 reading as an exceptional, rather than paradigmatic event structure in the Sir George Williams Poetry Reading Series, I will first situate the reading both in relation to the rituals, protocols and practices of Series, and within the history of Ginsberg’s own poetic performance. I will argue that Ginsberg’s reading at SGWU deliberately makes his own corporeality the focus of his performance through acts of cultural transposition, confession, and vocalization. These alternative forms address constitute a counterpublic discourse, as defined by Michael Warner in Publics and Counterpublics by incorporating "the personal/impersonal address and expansive estrangement of public speech” to “challenge modernity’s social hierarchy of faculties” (121)—those that privilege rational-critical forms of discourse. For Ginsberg, this involves operating in a metonymic, as opposed to metaphoric, mode—rather than resolving disparate ideas into a third, shared space of meaning he instead places ideas, phrases and ideologies into contiguous, dyadic contact to resist interpretive closure. This critical strategy not only supports the coexistence of the material and the prophetic, the spiritual and the spectacular, but significantly expands the circulatory space of counterpublic discourse.
Lee Hannigan (UBC Okanagan)
"Robin Blaser’s Audiotexts and the Challenges of Archiving Conversation"
American-born Canadian poet Robin Blaser’s influence on contemporary Canadian poetry has been an important one. However, as Blaser’s biographer Miriam Nichols has observed, although he has been a “touchstone of [the Canadian] literary scene for decades . . . [his work] has hitherto received too little attention.” In addition to his long list of publications, Blaser left behind a number of audio recordings, including a 1969 SGW Poetry Series reading that has been made available in the SpokenWeb digital archive.
My paper analyzes this 1969 reading in comparison with a 1974 discussion between Blaser and Canadian scholar Warren Tallman to bring attention to the contrast between the poetry reading and the poetry conversation. Drawing from Charles Bernstein’s Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, in which he emphasizes “sound as material, where sound is neither arbitrary nor secondary but constitutive,” I begin by examining how SpokenWeb’s current transcription and annotation practices facilitate the interrogation of poetic discourse. Next, taking Blaser’s and Tallman’s 1974 conversation (housed in the Poetry Okanagan Sound Archive) as a test case, I outline the challenges associated with transcribing and annotating recorded conversation. Finally, building from Kate Eichhorn’s “Past Performance, Present Dilemma: A Poetics of Archiving Sound,” in which she argues that “[n]owhere is the archive’s creative potential more apparent than at its limit” (184-85), I discuss how SpokenWeb’s current transcription and annotation practices might be used to facilitate scholarly interaction with recorded conversation.
Dean Irvine (Dalhousie University)
"Mission Control: An Operator's Manual for Compulibratories"
What I propose is a variant on Kenneth Goldsmith’s theorization of uncreative writing--a practice of uncreative reading, one that sees Earle Birney’s experimentation with computer-assisted poetry as an act of human-machine interaction in which he reads digitally generated linguistic code through an analog process of critical perception, curation, and editing. In doing so, I will situate one of his computer-assisted poetry experiments ("Space Conquest") that he read in February 1968 at Sir George Williams in relation to the history of laboratory-based aesthetic research conducted by avant-garde writers, visual artists, and architects of the early to mid-twentieth century.
Jane Malcolm (Université de Montréal)
“the poem among us, between us, there”: Rukeyser’s meta-poetics and the communal soundscape
We cannot know how many audience members at Muriel Rukeyser’s 1969 SGWU reading raised a hand to the question, “How many of you have ever written a poem?” Nervous laughter and a charged silence fill the space between Rukeyser’s query and her admission that she “asks the question now in all rooms.” Focusing on this crucial moment of silence, as well as Rukeyser’s attempt to fill the room with poets, to occupy the “now” with poetry, this paper addresses the creation of imagined communal soundscapes and the poetics (and politics) of audience exchange. Exploring Rukeyser’s explicit civic investments at the reading (the inclusion of her most incendiary poems from The Speed of Darkness (1968): “Orgy,” “Martin Luther King,” “The Speed of Darkness,” and many others), I want to explore the communal space of the poetry reading—a space that gives “Voices to all our voices”—particularly as a facet of the volatile political landscape of 1969. Reading (and hearing) the intersections between the language of protest—“These sons, these sons / fall burning into Asia”—and the bardic impulse—“I know I am space / my words are air,”—we can begin to understand this documentary recording as an archive of Rukeyser’s (and poetry’s?) sonic insurgency.
Annie Murray (Concordia University Special Collections) & Jared Wiercinski (Concordia University Libraries)
"Making Sense of Sound: Hearing, Seeing and Touching a Web-Based Audio Archive"
Much of our learning is multimodal, involving more than one sense modality. When we encounter a web-based archive of sounded poems, we are already combining the auditory with the visual. The web, an increasingly multimodal space for the creation and dissemination of culture, presents opportunities for deep engagement with sound. We will examine how hearing, seeing and touching all contribute to the experience of sounded poems on the web. Drawing upon research that examines the visual aspects of listening, and taking into consideration the haptic orientation of much mobile computing, we explore new ways we might design and interact with web-based audio archives.
Michael Nardone (Concordia University)
"'Unstrung, the structure is sound': Jackson Mac Low’s Language Event and Archive"
While numerous lines of dialogue continue to emerge on the archival and pedagogical implications of poetry audio recordings, critical practices based upon the phonotextual object remain underexplored. In this talk, I listen to Jackson Mac Low’s 1971 Sir George Williams performance to trace out possible tactics for phonotextual criticism. I give particular attention to imagining how modes of remixing and (re)performance open up critical engagements that extend beyond the written.
Karis Shearer (UBC Okanagan)
“Daphne Marlatt, Making Public(s)”
Danny Snelson (University of Pennsylvania)
"Speaking, speaking, speaking: bill bissett live, in vinyl, on MP3"
This speech considers spoken performances across a variety of digital platforms and media formats. As a test case, I explore several recordings of readings by bill bissett in the late sixties. Produced for vinyl recording (Awake in th Red Desert, 1968) and live performance in tape and digital formats (SGWU, 1969; Buffalo, 1980; Segue, 2005), bissett's signature style of live prosody is analyzed in relation to the media platforms and contextual registers it inhabits, case by case. Print artifacts are related to recordings, which are, in turn, related to media platforms and distribution networks. Methodologically, this exploration follows recent trends in format studies (Jonathan Sterne, 2012) and comparative media analysis (N. Katherine Hayles, 2013) in an attempt to understand how specific formats inflect, alter, and transform the meaning of bissett's readings. This discussion of format in bissett's performances verges on issues of digital archives, little databases, and the process of transcoding more generally. Both live performance and vinyl record are understood as facets (or modalities) of an internet archive that envelops the work from our present vantage. The historical recordings of bissett's performances are discussed in correspondence to online sites of dispersion, including Mutant Sounds, PennSound, and SpokenWeb—each of which is situated within its own unique intertextual location on the internet. Most succinctly, we might say that everything that was once spoken (that is to say, recorded) is continually speaking (differently) as it traverses each new archival context and medial format.
Max Stein and Liban Ali Yusuf (Concordia University)
"SpokenWeb Developments"/"Automatic Detection of Poetic Devices"
Information for Participants
Getting to Montreal
Montreal is easily accessible by planes and trains from all the major cities in North America and Europe. Please note that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), requires anyone, including U.S. citizens, entering or re-entering the United States by land and sea to have a passport or other appropriate secure document.
From the Airport
The cheapest way to get downtown from the airport is to take the new airport bus, Route 747, which will bring you directly to the metro system. The fare is $9 and functions as a day pass for the Montreal metro system. Taxis are also available and charge a flat rate of $38 from the airport to downtown Montreal.
Getting Around Montreal
The hotel where the conference is being held is conveniently located downtown. The Montreal metro system is the fastest and most cost effective way to get around the city. While individual tickets are $3, a three day pass is $18 (and will last through the conference!).
Metro operating hours are Monday to Friday and Sunday from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. The average wait time between trains is eight minutes and three minutes during rush hour.
For more information about public transportation in Montreal, visit www.stm.info.
If you prefer getting around by taxi, it’s always very easy to flag one down on the street. You’ll also find them in front of your hotel, or at one of the city’s many taxi stands.
Also, should the weather prove appropriate, you want to take advantage of the Bixi bicycle rental system that is set up throughout the Montreal metropolitan area.
Accommodation for the conference will be at Hotel du Fort, a four-star, classic, independent, boutique hotel, located in downtown Montreal. It is centrally located at the corner of du Fort and Ste-Catherine Streets. The hotel is a five minute walk from Concordia University and is within walking distance to three metro (subway) stations, as well as many of the city's fine restaurants, shopping malls, and attractions.
Hotel du Fort
1400 Rue du Fort
Tel: (514) 938-8333 / 1-800-565-6333
Signature rooms with king size beds and free high-speed wireless Internet are available for our conference participants. The rates are $109 + tax per night, which includes a buffet-style breakfast, or $99 + tax per night without breakfast.
To book your rooms, please call reservations at the above number and mention that you are a guest of the Approaching the Poetry Series Conference at Concordia.
We also have an open-block reservation at the cozy, historic Hotel Chateau Versailles, at a rate of $135 + tax per night. To book at this hotel, you can call reservations at (514) 933-3611 / 1-888-933-8111, and mention the same conference name.
Things to do around Montreal
Arts & Museums
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts:
Musée d’Art Contemporain:
Canadian Centre for Architecture:
Place Des Arts (Montreal Opera, The Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens):
Centaur Theatre Company:
The National Film Board (Events, Screenings and Personal Viewing Stations):
Segal Centre for Performing Arts
Théâtre Français à Montréal
Chowhound (Quebec and Montreal):
Attractions, Activities and Entertainment
Notre Dame Basilica
St. Joseph’s Oratory
Local Entertainment listings for the week:
Véhicule Press’s “Montreal: A Celebration” site: