Note: Craig Dworkin, author of Parse (Atelos, 2008), No Medium (MIT Press, 2013), and founding senior editor of Eclipse sat down with me on July 21, 2015 for a conversation in Salt Lake City as part of the one on one podcast series.
It may seem odd that this commentary takes its name from a type of audio distortion, anathema to recording engineers who seek to capture crystalline representations of the human speaking voice. But just as all clear audio recordings must begin by having their levels set, so too must cutting-edge, experimental scholarship, which is what Clipping aims to present: inchoate working ideas on digital analyses of poetry audio. Rather than working to create a polished product off the record, as it were, we aim to publish brief working essays that the community can see and help to refine. As such, we hope to serve as a public platform and an incubator for experimental digital analyses of poetry.
In the coming months we will present a series of exciting posts by scholars working in the field of poetry audio. Ken Sherwood will explore visualizing poetry with special reference to audio versioning.
A fair amount of contemporary writing and art would benefit from media-historical analysis. What media at what time made this work possible? What media are brought together in this work? When we want to analyze form in the contemporary, are we not sometimes talking about technical supports, the bridgings between various media the work relies on?
The notes that I’ll be contributing to this space over the next few months will be devoted to the Penelope-like task of weaving and unweaving what I call “the phonotextual braid,” that intertwining of timbre, text, and technology that presents itself to us when we attend to recorded poetry.
My objectives are to distill some of the thinking I and others have done on the topic, especially in the years since the launch of PennSound, to test some of the hypotheses and habits that have guided that inquiry to date, and to wonder aloud about the directions phonotextual studies might productively take in the near future. I also have in mind to share some real-time reading notes on a recent double issue of the journal differences devoted to “The Sense of Sound” and to poke around in the sonic archive of the 1980s in advance of a conference that my colleagues at the National Poetry Foundation and I will be hosting this summer.
Since its foundation in 1995 by Sue Thomas at Nottingham Trent University, UK, under the short-lived name CyberWriting, the trAce Online Writing Centre has been a shifting morphing hybrid entity. Its first output was a word-processed photocopied booklet called Select Internet Resources for Writers, compiled in Summer 1995 by Simon Mills, who went on to build the first trAce website, which launched at the Virtual Futures Conference at Warwick University in May 1996. For the next decade trAce expanded along with the web, evolving organically and somewhat haphazardly into a vast interlinked network created by many different artists, authors and researchers, during a period of rapid technological change.
Between 1995 and 2005 the trAce Online Writing Centre hosted and indeed fostered a complex media ecology: an ever-expanding web site, an active web forum, a local and and international network of people, a host of virtual collaborations and artist-in-residencies, a body of commissioned artworks, the trAce/Alt-X International Hypertext Competition, the Incubation conference series, and frAme, the trAce Journal of Culture and Technology. What emerged was one of the web’s earliest and most influential international creative communities. Its members were diverse, ranging from media-curious workshop participants to artist-in-residencies by some of the most well known practitioners in the fields of new media and digital writing today.
So Pat had access to a typesetting machine + layout facilities + there was an old offset press in the office where she worked. We scrounged the paper to do the book from offcuts or somewhere + asked a friend if he'd print it. So four of us went to occupied the office after hours with a flagon of wine + probably a few joints + printed, collated + stapled the book in a night. With that book there was no copyright - this was because of my wonderfully noble + idealistic anarchism — + the opening statement in the book read "if anyone wants these poem use them" + they were used - they turned up in magazines and so on. So the book cost very little, I think we spent about $20 + I also learned a bit about layout, printing + collating. So I had had the big light bulb go on for me, a highly illuminating experience + I loved the idea of publishing + the freedom of self-publishing where you could design + construct a book in any way you wished, you could say whatever you wanted to — NO LIMITS, no restriction.
The next year Pat drove moved to Sydney, driving up from Melbourne with an offset press in her V.W. – with a few clothes, no furniture or other possessions – the press taking priority in the car. She moved into the our house + the offset press was set up in the front room until it became too chaotic + a space in an old ex barbershop in Glebe was found for it. this was the So that's part of the story of the beginning of Tomato Press.
(Pam Brown, notes from a talk on self-publishing, given at the Women & Arts festival, Sydney, 1982. 'Pat' refers to Pat Woolley, publisher with Tomato Press and later, Wild & Woolley. I transcribed these notes from a scan of Pam's handwriting that she was kind enough to send to me. Apologising for the roughness, she commented on pre-digital note-taking, when "PowerPoint was a nightmare up ahead somewhere." I've honoured the cross-outs and false-starts because they are perfect records of almost-instaneous edits. Note the shift from "went to" to "occupied.")
‘Fossick’ is a word I never knew was specific to Australia until I moved to America, used the word, and was met with the subtle flash of confusion that I quickly identified as a polite reaction to alien slang. Fossick is a goldrush word, and it refers to the fine-tuned searching for tiny pieces of gold from rock already processed by other prospectors. Specifically, it is the act of hacking out “nuggets from the interstices” of leftover rock fragments. Idiomatically, for me, it simply names the process of cannily rifling through flotsam for treats: at a book shop, inside the fridge at mealtime, or in the rattish confines of one’s own bedroom.
When I first conceived this archival project, I immediately understood it to be an exercise in fossicking. My working concept of an archive of poetry and poetics is that, firstly, it exists as a decentralised, often isolated, set of cells. Secondly, the only way to contribute to the archive, much like maintaining a good wet compost heap, is to uncover the matter underneath and contribute new stuff on top. So this project, over the next three months, will aim to discover nuggets otherwise buried and will add new nuggets: by way of these texts as well as mp3 files, scans and images. And finally, my archive is very much an alt-archive, interested in the histories of Sydney that have not otherwise been represented in the city’s official and bureaucratic annuls. Where poetry is concerned, this means I am less interested in bibliographic remains of anthologies, well-known poets or poetry as it is occasionally and uncomfortably grafted onto public events and municipal ceremony. As a researcher, I am always interested in peripheral or lateral relations over hierarchical or generational succession.
I re-read Ron Silliman’s June 4, 2010, blog post yesterday with renewed excitement and trepidation. He describes a personal archive of recordings of poetry readings that is remarkable (for its size and range) but also alas typical in the sense that there is no economy to support its being made available — or even for its preservation. If you read what Ron has to say here please be sure to look also at Steve Fama's comment.
In my basement I found a water-warped address book dating from the period 1978-1985. This morning I went looking for a few old addresses, picked up the little half-rotted black codex and out fell a pink card, which brought back a flood of good memories. It's a researcher's card given to me on the occasion of my very first visit to an archive of literary manuscripts: the Huntington Library, December 1982. Virginia (Ginny) Renner was the readers' services librarian who immediately befriended me. Dave Wyatt took me there (MLA was in LA that year, I think); we visited his father in Laguna Beach and he escorted me around and across the LA of his youth. At the Huntington, as I read the unpublished correspondence of Wallace Stevens, I got to know Stuart Curran and Joe Wittreich, who were enormously generous and hospitable, knew the Huntington and Pasadena like the backs of their hands.
And I met Marjorie Perloff for the first time, who sat next to me reading Stevens' WW2-era letters for a paper she was writing arguing his social and political ignorance. Marjorie and I enjoyed several long lunches together at the researchers-only cafe to which at noon the readers were sent walking (they closed the library for an hour, partly to enforce the daily gatherings of the scholars). We walked past the building in which was displayed Blue Boy, through the meandering Shakespeare garden, had lunch, and walked back to our manuscripts by way of the Japanese garden with its giant hungry carp. Thanks, Dave; thanks Stuart; thanks Marjorie. Thanks to the late Holly Stevens who sold her father's letters to the Huntington in part because he and wife Elsie had stopped to see Henry Huntington's collection on the way back from their trip through the Panama Canal and up the west coast.
Yes, I did note that Marjorie sat next to me researching a paper on Stevens' wartime political ignorance (and/or obliviousness). What I didn't mention--but those who have read my scholarly writing will already know--was that I was beginning to write a book arguing precisely the opposite. This did not put Marjorie off. In fact, quite the opposite. It endeared me to her and was the basis of the beginning of our friendship. We argued, to be sure, but in a way I found utterly productive (and perhaps she felt the same). She was the first energetically open-minded member of my profession I had met. We were teaching each other the conflicts. I'm going back to that first book to be sure I acknowledged her in this way. It's been a while. And in any case, now I've done so here.