Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for May, 2013

May 31, 2013

Anouk Lang, Alan Crawley, and TCLLP

EMiC co-applicant Anouk Lang, Lecturer in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde, UK, is currently working on an edition of correspondence between writers, editors, critics, and other individuals who were associated with Alan Crawley, the editor of Contemporary Verse. Given that he was unusually supportive of women, and also that he disrupted the dominance of networks and publication outlets in eastern Canada within critical narratives of the development of modern poetry over the twentieth century, Crawley is a figure who occupies an intriguing position within Canadian literature, modernism, and periodical culture more generally.

As such a figure, Crawley fits right into Anouk’s broader research into the way culture — specifically ideas about modernist aesthetics, literary innovation, what is understood to constitute “avant-garde” practice, and so on — is transmitted from person to person and from place to place, both within and beyond Canada. Crawley had a lot of cultural authority by the time Contemporary Verse ceased publication in 1953, but he came by that authority in ways very different from those by which others — men, mostly — who were controlling what was published, what was anthologized, and what was deemed worthy of critical attention in the mid-twentieth century came by their authority. Crawley’s letters are hugely important in understanding his influence, given that his public work editing Contemporary Verse was underpinned by a vast amount of private work — supported by his wife Jean and by other women including Dorothy Livesay, Floris McLaren, and Doris Ferne — that is largely invisible until you begin looking at the letters.

At this point, Anouk is several years into the process of visiting the archives and gathering the scans of all the correspondence that might go into her edition. Crawley’s correspondence is voluminous, and it is spread across a number of archives across Canada. While she would love nothing more than to tour Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and various university special collections, gather all of Crawley’s letters, and then select the best, Anouk is based in the UK and has a young family. Therefore, she needs to be strategic about the data gathering while still producing a volume with a coherent shape and compelling narrative.

Anouk knows to plan well in advance, and she makes sure to take advantage of every transatlantic trip: when at TEMiC in Peterborough in 2010, she was able to spend several afternoons in the archives at Trent; a conference in Ottawa last year gave her some time at LAC; and maternity leave allowed her three days at the Queen’s archives with the Crawley papers. Moreover, Anouk benefitted from Kaarina Mikalson’s trip to the archives at the University of Manitoba: Kaarina scanned some letters between Crawley and Livesay in addition to the work she was doing on Bart Vautour’s project.

In terms of the project’s future, Anouk is very excited about its potential to reveal previously obscured insights about cultural transmission by bringing the metadata from these letters — details about authors, recipients, dates, georeferences of where they were sent from and sent to — into conversation with the metadata from other collections of correspondence. Anouk has joined with some likeminded modernist scholars who also work on twentieth-century correspondence, and they are considering what it would look like to build a digital interface on top of a database of correspondence metadata which would enable users to find connections — social, geographical, prosopographical — between individuals who were significant within twentieth-century literature.

This project — entitled Twentieth-Century Literary Letters (TCLLP) — will provide an elegant solution to publishers’ concerns about concurrent digital (free) and print editions. While the full-text of the letters will be available in print form, only the metadata will be available online (given that it is unlikely that permission to publish the full-text will be forthcoming for every single letter from all of the collections). However, even with this restriction, the ability to cross-reference people, places, dates, and other elements will potentially open up further avenues for research. Hopefully, the digital resource will drive people to the primary source (the print edition), while readers of the print edition can add a new dimension to their reading of the letters by going to the digital tool and exploring the connections with other places and writers. It feels like a very exciting time to be working on correspondence, and no doubt new digital humanities tools will arise in the next few years that will go even further in deepening what can be learned about the development of modernism in Canada and beyond.

Anouk and the rest of the TCLLP team would love to hear from others also working on correspondence in this period who are interested in bringing the metadata from their materials into a wider conversation.

May 30, 2013

bp Poems in Hand and on Screen

An update on my bpNichol project is long overdue, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my recent work and also share some bp with everyone by uploading a couple texts to the Modernist Commons.

Most recently, I have been spending time in the Dalhousie special collections, examining all of the bp works available. As I read through countless texts and (literally) unpack various book objects, I am keeping two objectives in mind: finding poems to include in my Dada-centric survey of Nichol’s more material-oriented poetry , and tracking down multiple versions of individual poems.

On the Dada end of things, it has proven an interesting challenge to select poems for the digital critical edition I am creating. I want to select poems that best represent Nichol’s connections and responses to the avant-garde poetry of the Dada movement. Firstly, Dada (as described by the Dadas themselves) is everything and nothing, so I am finding that any bp work when examined with enough creative analysis can be Dada or cannot be Dada. I have been using Dada manifestos and flipping through numerous compilations of Dada art and literature to train my eyes and ears to make the Dada connection, but to be more selective I am focusing on Nichol’s poetry that exemplifies materiality, deconstruction of language, and a primitive approach to sound. These characteristics are most easily found in his concrete experiments, his visual poem images, and his sound poetry. These works display Nichol’s playfulness with printing technology; the page as a message; the book as an object; and, letters, words, and primitive sound as unmediated raw language– a playfulness that is present in many Dada works as well. However, it has been challenging to decide where to draw the line in regards to what is poetry. Nichol did an excellent job of blurring this line by creating novels composed of visual poems ordered in a narrative arc, and by using doodles of birds and sketches of landscapes as notation, and by featuring letters as characters in comics and drawings.

As far as hunting for variations of oft-published Nichol poems, I have found a wealth of early Nichol publications in small literary periodicals and tiny presses, and it has been fascinating to see ideas germinate in more traditional poetic forms, evolve in concrete creations in his later publications, and then be translated back into other genres such as prose. While at DHSI I will explore more Nichol texts in the UVic special collections before travelling to Simon Fraser to look at their extensive bpNichol fonds.

I recently added two full collections of Nichol’s poetry– Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (1973) and Still Water (1970)–  to the Modernist Commons. These works are scanned in their entirety and include some of the poems that I previously ingested individually and then grouped together into small “books.” I welcome anyone interested in bp’s works to play around with all of the poems I have ingested. TEI is not well suited to concrete poetry, but the poems are ideal for testing out the annotations tool. If you are eager to experiment with annotations please feel free to practice with the bp poetry. Many of the poems can be treated as both texts and images, so you can really get creative with annotating.

I have also been uploading digitized bp works to bpnichol.ca, an online archive that has collected many of Nichol’s publications. The site is a great resource for locating the vast output of one of Canada’s most innovative writers. Most recently I added the 1969 edition of Konfessions, which has a few different poems than the 1973 edition.

If you end up enjoying Nichol as much as I do, I must admit that there is still no substitute for encountering one of his original works in person. While I am excited to test the possibilities of a digital edition, I know that there is no technology to recreate the experience of opening a work like Letters Home and finding a colourful assortment of paper objects of various textures, fonts, and sizes. I have had to accept the fact that I cannot recreate the urge to follow the instructions on the “Cold Mountain” flip-book (to curl it into cones and burn it) that you get from holding it in your hands. (I also had to resist the urge because special collections tends to frown on setting fires in the library and destroying pieces from their holdings.) The best I can do is hope to create new interactions with bp’s creations through a digital environment (and direct anyone with further interest to seek out tangible Nichol works through used book dealers– if I haven’t snatched all the burnable treasures up first!).

May 13, 2013

Alana Fletcher and George Whalley

Queen’s University student Alana Fletcher has recently been awarded a second EMiC doctoral stipend to continue working towards the production of scholarly digital and print editions of the works of George Whalley. Over the last year, Alana has collaborated with Michael DiSanto on a specific component of the project: the production of an open-access online database of primary materials that includes scans of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts and typescripts, related letters, personal papers, and photographs.

The database — which was adapted from the Algoma University Archive (AUA) and the Shingwauk Residential School Centre, and built by Robin Isard, the Algoma eSystems Librarian, and Rick Scott, the Library Technologies Specialist — is connected to Michael’s open-access Whalley website, where it will eventually go live. The database is RAD (Rules for Archival Description), OAI (Open Archives Initiative), and Dublin Core compliant, so the research materials collected here can be easily moved into almost any library or archival database programmatically via OAI protocols.

Alana is the person on the ground at the Queen’s University Archives and the George Whalley fonds, which contains over 10 metres of textual material, which includes notes, drafts, final copies and correspondence pertaining to Whalley’s published and unpublished book-length works, shorter essays and articles, and poetry. Also available in the fonds are notes, correspondence, scripts, and recordings of the CBC radio and television pieces which feature Whalley as narrator or author, as well as personal and professional correspondence, and professional reports produced by Whalley in his role as a university administrator, author, and editor. There are also about 100 photographs and 50 maps, as well as 51 audio reels and 4 audio discs in the fonds. Alana is primarily occupied with scanning, editing, uploading to the database, and describing relevant texts. Since Alana began to work on the project in May 2012, over 4075 pages of Whalley’s manuscripts, typescripts, journals, and letters have been processed.

In a recent colloquium presentation at Queen’s University, Alana used Whalley’s letters to his mother, Dorothy, as an interdisciplinary case study of the ongoing personal narrativization that makes drastic role changes internally coherent, and the essential role played by readers/listeners in “witnessing” the textual construction of selfhood. Alana is now updating the database with scans and transcriptions of a comprehensive selection of Whalley’s letters to Dorothy between 1927 (the date of the earliest letter in the fonds) and 1956 (the date of the latest letter and the year of Dorothy’s death).

The main challenge Alana has faced in her work on this project is the surprising lack of awareness of Whalley and his legacy in Canada. She hopes that this project will not only publicize Whalley’s work, but also recover Whalley as the remarkable force behind the mobilization of a modernist ethic in Canada, and as a prolific producer of critical and creative works, an influential professor and institutional figure, and an intriguing humanist, sportsman, spy, and aesthete.

Alana, Michael, and Robin will be presenting a paper on the database — entitled “Archiving from the Start: An Archive Database Solution for Literary Research” — at DHSI in early June. Alana will also be presenting on Whalley in June at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, where she will be giving a paper at on Whalley’s multiple-language CBC radio adaptation of Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo.

May 13, 2013

Michael DiSanto and George Whalley

EMiC co-applicant Michael DiSanto (Assistant Professor of English at Algoma University) is working on George Whalley (1915-83), the eminent and accomplished man of letters. Michael’s work on Whalley consists of many parts, the first of which is an edition of Whalley’s complete poems for publication in 2015. A digital edition of a wide selection of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts, typescripts, and correspondence will be a counterpart to the print edition of the collected poems. Alana Fletcher, a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Queen’s University who currently has an EMiC PhD Stipend, is co-editing the digital edition with Michael. Following the digital edition, Michael plans to edit a new collection of Whalley’s essays that will likely correspond closely with Whalley’s own plans for a two-volume edition, but will include some late and unpublished writings. Michael’s work on Whalley will culminate in the biography of Whalley he plans to publish by 2022.

At the centre of Michael’s work is an online database constructed by Robin Isard, the eSystems Librarian at Algoma University, using open-source Drupal software. The database is Rules for Archival Description (RAD) compliant, and will continue to grow until Michael is finished. At the end of his work, Michael will make the database — which is proceeding in collaboration with the Queen’s University Archives — available to the public on the Internet.

Since beginning to work on Whalley, Michael has discovered over 100 unpublished poems, which will more than double the number of Whalley’s extant poems. Michael and Alana have digitized no fewer than 4000 pages of poetry manuscripts, typescripts, letters, and other documents — all of these pages are being loaded into the database. Stacey Devlin, an undergraduate student who has been working with Michael since May 2012, has transcribed no fewer than 1200 transcriptions of poems, letters, journals, and other documents, all of which are being loaded into the database. Stacy has also constructed an elaborate and remarkable timeline of Whalley’s life that draws on his military records, letters, accounts published by friends, family, students, and colleagues, and many other sources.

To support this work, Michael has received funding from several sources, including EMiC, SSHRC, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, and Algoma University. With this funding, Michael has and will continue to be able to hire research assistants to work on the Whalley project. In addition to financial support, Michael has also received great help from a number of people, and especially from Whalley’s family, colleagues, students, and friends.

Michael has only run into some minor issues in his work so far. Technology has proven to be a small obstacle, but Michael has been able to rely on the expertise of Robin Isard, who has been generous in devoting much time to work on the project. Geography has also been a bit of an issue — Michael’s distance from Kingston and the Queen’s University Archives makes it difficult to visit as often as he would like. Moreover, Whalley’s private papers are in Southwold, England. Again, distance makes it difficult for Michael to visit as often or for as long as he would like — as does his heavier-than-average teaching load — but he has arranged a sabbatical for 2013-14, which will allow him to spend time in Kingston and Southwold.

For Michael, researching Whalley has raised several questions: how many more poems will be discovered, and how many more of Whalley’s letters will appear? What will the design of the digital edition be? Also, how many people will be willing to contribute to the Whalley biography? And, ultimately, will this work be successful in bringing to Whalley the attention his writing demands and deserves?

Michael has also been working on several papers on Whalley, including an essay entitled “Editing a Legend: George Whalley” for the EMiC Special Edition of “Essays in Canadian Writing.” This summer in Victoria, Michael will present four Whalley-related papers. One, on the RAD-compliant database, Michael will present with Robin Isard. He will present another paper related to the database with Robin and Alana at DHSI. The two other papers are Michael’s work alone: one is on Whalley’s poem “Lazarus,” which was written in response to Epstein’s sculpture of the same name, and the other is on Whalley’s and George Grant’s ideas regarding the university.

May 5, 2013

Zailig Pollock and the Digital Page

Zailig Pollock, Professor in the Department of English Literature at Trent University, is the principal investigator, and — alongside Dean Irvine and Sandra Djwa — one of the general editors of the Digital Page, an online digital edition of the Collected Works of P.K. Page to be housed on the Modernist Commons. The project is supported by SSHRC, and by EMiC, in the form of research assistantships and a PhD stipend, as well as through funding for conferences and DHSI. Trent University has also provided space and in-kind funding as part of its role as a partner institution.

Not unlike P.K. Page herself, the Digital Page is complex and multi-faceted. Right now, the team is working on the first half of the project, which includes designing an interface for the edition, which will serve as a template for other EMiC-affiliated editions; transcribing and encoding material for the first volumes of the edition to appear (poetry, Brazilian Journal, Mexican Journal, Visual Art); and beginning the process of identifying, acquiring, transcribing, and encoding material for the correspondence volume, which will be the last of the series to actually appear.

So far, Zailig has developed TEI and XSLT for encoding poetry and prose, and for generating a variety of HTML files for such things as representation of manuscript revisions, clean reading text, list of emendations, list of regularizations. He has focussed especially on the representation of complex revisions — some of the pages he deals with have gone through half-a-dozen or more stages of revision, sometimes over an extended period of time. Zailig is quite satisfied with the TEI/XSLT aspect of the project, which has advanced to the point that he is able to produce HTML files that do whatever he wants them to do.

The main challenge Zailig has faced is a lack of technical expertise — both his own lack, and the lack at Trent University in general. Because no one editor has the all of the expertise required to produce a digital edition, collaboration is essential. Without the support of EMiC, this project would be much more difficult, perhaps impossible. In terms of interface design, Zailig is working with the Modernist Commons to develop an interface for the Digital Page which will include such things as a timeline to serve as the spine of the edition linking all of Page’s written and visual work and events of her life, collations, fully integrated text and images, and textual apparatus, among other things. There are three other aspects of the edition which are under way but not yet settled: text/image interface, collation tools, and a search engine. For all of these, Zailig is depending on the developers at the Modernist Commons.

Zailig’s main overall concern is that he is the only EMiC-affiliated editor working with XSLT, even though TEI files cannot be integrated into a digital edition without XSLT. Although Zailig took the XSLT course at DHSI, he found it to be very challenging for someone without a background in programming. Further, the course did not really focus on the needs of editors, who are never going to master the enormous complexity of XSLT as a whole, but who need to be familiar enough with it to do basic coding and to discuss more complex needs intelligently with a developer. To encourage a basic and adequate familiarity with XSLT rather than actual expertise, Zailig hopes to offer a course on XSLT for EMiC with his son, who is an expert in XSLT.

Zailig is also representing EMiC in a joint project with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to digitize Canadian modernist literary manuscripts in their collection. In addition to Page, the first phase of digitization will include  Robertson Davies (diaries), F.R. Scott, Louis Dudek, and Elizabeth Smart.