About SpokenWeb

A team of literary scholars, students, designers and librarians and archivists based at Concordia University and across North America with a shared research interest in the study, preservation and creative use of literary and humanities-oriented audio recordings.  This project began as a four-year federally-funded SSHRC IG project: “SpokenWeb: Developing a Comprehensive Web-Based Digital Spoken Word Archive for Literary Research.” Using digitized live recordings of a Montreal poetry reading series from 1966-1974 featuring performances by major North American poets, among them Beat poets, Black Mountain poets and members of TISH, a Canadian poetry collective, our team is investigating the features that will be the most conducive to scholarly engagement with recorded poetry recitation and performance. SpokenWeb has since expanded into a larger consortium of researchers and community organizations who are engaged in research and development activities pertaining to

1. the study of spoken recordings within the context of literary studies, 2. the exploration of digitization and digital preservation techniques and platforms for collections of literary sound recordings, 3. the exploration and development of interfaces and tools designed for engaging with such materials, 4. the pursuit of oral literary history as a means of contextualizing audio-documented literary readings, 5. the organization of archival performance events that integrate archival audio into live performance, 6. and the development of new forms of pedagogy that make use of archival literary audio.

The SpokenWeb site features recordings from The SGWU Poetry Series archive (including tools for navigation of the audio),  as well as our ongoing experiments in designing a practical interface for the unique cultural artifact that is the literary sound recording.  We will be making notes form our team meetings and related Blog posts public.  The site will report on our experiments with Sound Visualization, as well as the latest Research activities generated by our team.  The Oral Literary History component of the site will gradually integrate interviews we are in the process of conducting with individuals who organized, read or attended the readings in the series, as a means of building up a narrative that explains what the series meant at the time of its occurrence.  We will also be adding content to our Resources section of the site, which consists of an informative inventory of other spoken word sites that exist on the web,  a toolbox that reports on a variety of digital tools we will be considering for integration into the spokenweb design, among other practical things.Further, we will be posting documentation of the series of Events that we shall be organizing as part of our Performing the Spoken Word Archive initiative.  All of the latest News pertaining to the project will appear on the SpokenWeb homepage.

If you have questions or comments about SpokenWeb, if you are an institution or web-design company that wishes to partner with us, or if you are an individual who has some connection to the Sir George Williams Poetry Series and are willing to be interviewed for this project, please contact the project’s Principal Investigator, Jason Camlot at jason.camlot@concordia.ca.

SpokenWeb Team Members

  • Jason Camlot (PI), Associate Professor, English, Concordia U
  • Tanya Clement, U Texas at Austin
  • Cecily Devereux, Chair, CWRC, U Alberta
  • Rebecca Dowson, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Simon Fraser U
  • Ian Ferrier, Wired On Words
  • Al Filreis, Kelly Professor, English, U Pennsylvania / PennSound
  • Deanna Fong, Doctoral Student, English, Simon Fraser U
  • Lee Hannigan, Doctoral Student, English, U Alberta
  • Steven High, Professor Oral History, Concordia U
  • Michelle Levy, Associate Professor, English, Simon Fraser U
  • Katherine McLeod, Assistant Professor, English, Concordia U
  • Annie Murray, Digital & Special Collections Librarian, U Calgary
  • Michael Nardone, Doctoral Student, English, Concordia U
  • Clara Nencu, MA Student, English, Concordia U
  • Tomasz Neugebauer, Digital Projects & Systems Librarian, Concordia U
  • Michael O’Driscoll, Professor, English and Film Studies, U Alberta
  • Tony Power, Special Collections Librarian, Simon Fraser U
  • Louis Rastelli, Archive Montreal
  • Max Stein, Graduate, Electroacoustic Studies, Concordia U
  • Darren Wershler, Associate Professor & CURC, English, Concordia U
  • Jeffrey Aaron Weingarten, Fanshawe College
  • Jason Wiens, English, U Calgary
  • Jared Wiercinski, Interim Associate Librarian, Concordia U

 

Past Affiliates

  • Sabine Bergler
  • Ashley Clarkson
  • Aline Lemay
  • Jason Lewis
  • Christine Mitchell
  • Sina Queyras
  • Elena Razlogova
  • Frank Rudzicz
  • Felicity Tayler
  • Taylan Ulgar

The Sir George Williams Poetry Series, 1966-1974

Between 1965 and 1974 members of the Sir George Williams University  (SGWU, now Concordia University) English Department in Montreal hosted a series of poetry readings that was conceived as an ongoing encounter between local poets and the avant-garde poetics of some of the most important writers from the United States and the rest of Canada.  Sponsored by “The Poetry Committee” of the Faculty of Arts and the SGWU English Department—and organized primarily by English professors Howard Fink, Stanton Hoffman, Wynn Francis, Irving Layton, Roy Kiyooka, and (from 1967-71) George Bowering—these readings involved more than sixty poets from across North America.  Known simply as “The Poetry Series”, audio recordings of these readings were made on Mylar 1 mil. tape using mobile reel-to-reel tape machines.  The Concordia University Archives received a grant in 2007 that has allowed all 65 reels of tape (more than 100 hours of audio) to be digitized.  So, this sound from an interesting period of transformation in Canadian poetics, and of self-scrutiny for Montreal poetry, represents a rich and useable archive for scholarly research.  A primary goal of our project is develop an interface that will improve scholarly engagement with the archive.  We are also interested in generating research about the questions that arise from an attempt to work with literary audio materials.  And, we are interested in developing research that is specific to the archive at hand.

“The Poetry Series” recordings document the appearance within Quebec's English-language writing community figures such as Robert Creeley (who already had a long creative correspondence with Irving Layton  in the 1950s), Michael McClure, Charles Reznikoff, Ted Berrigan, David Bromidge, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Koch, Jackson MacLow, and Jerome Rothenberg.  In addition to these experimental American poets, many local figures—poets such as Layton, D.G. Jones, Michael Gnarowski, Henry Beissel and Richard Sommer—are documented as having participated in readings of their own.  The series also brought in major “Canadian” poets from outside Quebec, people like Al Purdy, Bill Bisset, Frank Davey, Eli Mandel, Earl Birney and Margaret Atwood.  Thus, the Poetry Series archive represents a unique audio record of a local poetry community interacting with and literally performing its engagement alongside contemporary national, and international poetic philosophies and practices.

The distinctions between local (Montreal), national (Canadian) and international (mainly American) are interesting to consider in the context of the series as they suggest different senses of purview, reach and imagined audience in relation to each other.  Attempts to define what “Canadian” literature is, and to account for its status in relation to the rest of the world—topics of great debate during this period—represent another interesting context to consider in relation to these public performances.  Further, the reading series documents two competing versions of literary modernism pronouncing themselves from the podium concurrently, and, in a sense, challenging Montreal students, readers and poets to reconsider its sense of the position that English Montreal writing held in relation to the future of Canadian literature.

For the purposes of the present Research Development Initiative (RDI), the value of a local archive of literary recordings such as “The Poetry Series” lies in its status as a coherent body of spoken materials upon which to test the process of transforming an analog collection into a full-fledged web-based archive.  The existence of such coherent institution-based audio collections is widespread across North America, and thus our own development initiative will provide an adaptable template for general consultation and use by the international scholarly community.

Using “The Poetry Series” archive as our repository of test records has enabled us to conceptualize the web-based Digital Spoken Word Archive (DSWA) from the ground up.  We feel it is extremely important to take this comprehensive approach, as it identifies best practices of archival preservation as a key factor in the conversion of collection materials into digital audio file formats suitable for online use, and it will allow us to provide a thorough account of all the steps necessary to move from an analog collection to a web-based DSWA.