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198 ] Reading Series Matter: Performing the SpokenWeb Project Lee Hannigan, Aurelio Meza, and Alexander Flamenco W hen poets participate in the formal mechanism known as the poetry reading, sometimes embedded within the larger context of a reading series, they also participate in and sometimes break social and literary conventions. A similar break occurs when digital tools are used to record what was intended to be ephemeral. Consider a poetry reading series that took place at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal between 1966 and 1974. This series, simply referred to as “the Poetry Series,” was recorded on 65 reel-­ to-­ reel tapes, containing over one hundred hours of audio and featuring some of North America’s most influential schools of postmodern poetry, including work by members of the Beats, Black Mountain, New York School, San Francisco Renaissance , and TISH, a Canadian poetry collective. In 1999, 25 years after the series ended, these tapes were discovered in an English Department Chair’s office at Concordia University; they were then deposited in the university archive, and by 2013 theyweredigitized,transcribed,andre-­presented,orun-­archived,onlineatspokenweb .ca, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-­ funded research project that explores methods of scholarly engagement with literary sound recordings. SpokenWebusestherobustnessofnewmediatouncoverandinvestigatethelost genealogy of a poetry reading series and its place within the larger history of institutional literary events. This investigation considers the effects of recording technology on cultural production since the 1950s, when magnetic tape devices were popularized in Canadian universities. The Poetry Series tapes are a case study for scholarly speculation on the influence of new media in literary studies, on the importance of embodied voice and materiality, and for discussing concepts such as “paraphonotext ” (Filreis 2015), “performance” (Taylor 2003), and “archival effect” (Manoff 386)1 as they relate to poetry and literature. Digital archive projects such as PennSound, the Walt ­ Whitman Archive, UbuWeb, Slought Foundation, the Emily Dickinson Archive, and SpokenWeb are examples of how digital content management systems allow mixed media to be consolidated and presented to facilitate the exploration of part III ][ Chapter 22 Reading Series Matter [ 199 cultural material that exists at the periphery of the digital world. SpokenWeb uses its corpus to raise questions about the nature of poetry performance, or what Charles Bernstein (2009) calls the “ghostly presence” of disembodied voices (962), and the effectsgeneratedwhendocumentaryresiduesofareadingseriesreenterpublicspace. In this chapter, we detach from a (phono)textual-­ centric perspective and approach SpokenWeb as a digital venue for exploring the implications of, in Jason Camlot and Darren Wershler’s (2015) terms, “making the reading series discernible .” Through digitization, SpokenWeb transformed the Poetry Series from a collection of archival documents lacking both metadata and historical transparency to a properly contextualized moment in Canadian literary history. As the Poetry Series tapes demonstrate, the contexts and concepts that surround archival documents require a space outside the archive itself— ­ a space where they can be re-­ presented not just as archival documents but as a comprehensive collection of literary recordings that depend on digital technologies for narration and circulation as much now as they depended on analog technologies for their original production in the 1960s and 70s. While analog media such as print or magnetic tape are transparent and accessible in their own way (as material objects with unique relationships to the technologies that produced them), digitization creates connections within the complex network of institutions and desires that make media meaningful . Just as analog technology made the Poetry Series tapes possible between 1966 and 1974, digital technology and educational institutions allow us to return to the past anew in the twenty-­ first century. Since 2013, SpokenWeb has organized two conferences and three reading events that used the Poetry Series tapes to explore methods for engaging with recorded sound. Two key terms for approaching these critical performances are “un-­ archiving” and “re-­ presentation” (Camlot and McLeod).2 “Re-­presentation” refers to the retrieval, remediation, contextualization, and dissemination of archival materials. Closely related, “un-­ archiving” makes analog material discernible as both an object of study and an accessible audio file. These terms contribute to what Camlot and Wershler call “the development of new critical methods and vocabularies , new tools, and new modes of presenting and disseminating knowledge.” The Poetry Series tapes are objects of scholarly study because they are preserved in different media formats (e.g., magnetic tape, WAV, and MP3), heard, transcribed, uploaded to SoundCloud, tethered to WordPress, and displayed at SpokenWeb. Each of these format migrations and content transformations ushers in another meta-­ level...


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