Since May of 2012, Michael DiSanto (Algoma University) and I have been collaborating on 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, built by Robin Isard, the eSystems Librarian, and Rick Scott, the Library Technologies Specialist, is connected to the open access website Michael edits and manages, www.georgewhalley.ca. The database is RAD (Rules for Archival Description), OAI (Open Archives Initiative), and Dublin Core compliant. This means the materials collected by the project can be easily moved into almost any library or archival database via OAI protocols. With the cooperation of the Queen’s University Archives (QUA) and the Whalley estate, the database is used to collect Whalley materials together in one location and make them accessible from anywhere on the internet. This database will serve as the foundation for subsequent digital and print editions of Whalley’s works, the first of which is a digital edition of selected materials that will provide rich insights into George Whalley’s creative process as a poet. This digital collection will serve as the counterpart to the scholarly print edition of Whalley’s collected poems that Michael is editing for McGill-Queen’s University Press (MQUP), with an expected publication date of 2015. The digital edition will be comprised of manuscripts and typescripts, as well as private papers such as the composition calendar in which Whalley recorded the dates and locations he composed and revised many of his poems between 1937 and 1947. Whalley’s letters from his correspondence with Ryerson Press for the chapbook Poems 1939-1944 (1946) and selections from his wartime correspondence will also be included, and transcriptions for each digital image will also be presented.
My work on the Whalley project has provided me with valuable experience working first-hand with the very rich collection of published and unpublished materials in the QUA’s George Whalley Fonds. I spent much of my time during the last year scanning letters and poetry and prose manuscripts and typescripts located in the QUA to digital archival standards (between 400 and 600dpi) in TIFF format, editing them, converting them to JPEGs, and uploading them into the database with RAD-compliant descriptions. At the same time, Michael has scanned, edited, converted, and uploaded documents in the private papers kept by the Whalley family in Southwold, England, and by various other people connected to Whalley. Between the time I joined the project in May 2012 and the end of March 2013, we made 1711 records describing 4888 files, including no less than 4075 pages of manuscripts, typescripts, journals, and letters. Both Michael and I have also produced public works on Whalley. I presented a conference paper at Trinity College Dublin in mid-June of this year on Whalley’s multi-linguistic radio adaptation of Primo Levi’s memoir, Se questo è un uomo, and made a colloquium presentation at Queen’s University which compared the self-presentational modes of Whalley’s pre-war, wartime, and post-war letters to his mother. Michael, Robin, and I also gave a talk on our approach to the Whalley project entitled “Archiving from the Start: An Archive Database Solution for Literary Research” at DHSI this past June.
Currently, we are working with Robin on a major refresh of www.georgewhalley.ca and on formulating the technical and aesthetic design elements of the edition. Some of the editorial decisions we have made concerning the edition include the choice to use a “Related Materials” sidebar to direct users to documents connected to the one they are currently viewing. My work has shifted in the last month to focus on editing the database’s records for various typescripts and manuscripts into a more granular format, to enable users to search quite specifically among records.
Today is Stacey Devlin’s last working day on the George Whalley project. Having been very successful in her undergraduate studies as a double major in English and History at Algoma University, she has won a SSHRC graduate scholarship and will pursue a MA in Public History at Western University in September. The great contribution she’s made to the Whalley project deserves public recognition.
Since coming aboard in May, 2012, Stacey has completed an extraordinary amount of work: thousands of pages of transcriptions of letters, diaries, poems, and other documents; a spreadsheet that records all of Whalley’s extant poems, their textual sources, and their dates and locations of composition; significant historical and bibliographical research, and much else. She has made many of the processes that are now taught to new research assistants. During her time, the Whalley database has grown significantly.
Stacey’s most impressive accomplishment is a timeline of Whalley’s life. As of today, there are well over 2000 entries that draw together details from Whalley’s letters, diaries and logs, poetry manuscripts and typescripts, military records, and other sources. With it, we can track where Whalley was and what he was doing week to week and, quite often, day to day. For every entry the source of the information is cited. Before too long, digital scans of the various documents will be linked to the timeline. It is already a remarkable scholarly resource and will become the foundation upon which much else is built.
Stacey has left an indelible mark on the whole project. Working with her has been a great pleasure. Though I am happy to see her set off for London, I am sad to lose her. Perhaps one day her journey in life will lead her back to Whalley. She will always be welcome.
This post is written by Melissa Dalgleish, Katie Wooler, and Kaarina Mikalson.
We’ve been back from DHSI for a few weeks, and it’s only now that I feel like I’ve properly processed what I learned there. This year, I decided to take a less code-heavy course then I did the last few times I attended, and embark upon Visual Design for Digital Humanists. The broadest interpretation of digital humanist applies here, because anyone who works in the humanities and uses a computer (i.e. anyone) would find this course useful.
Like basically every course at DHSI, VDDH suffers from the problem of trying to cram a vast amount of material into five days, and trying to gear that material to people with a wide range of backgrounds and expectations of the course. That, however, is also a strength, since we got an introduction to the principles of design, gestalt theory, color theory, the vocabulary and practice of critique, user experience and interaction, web design, typography and font design, and Adobe design software. But for those who already have a strong background in design theory and Adobe’s Creative Suite software, the class would likely be boring, as the course material is geared towards beginners.
Despite our obviously brilliant and experienced instructors, the course often simultaneously felt like too much and not enough: too much to learn, too much emphasis on some topics and not others, too little time to put what we’d learned into practice. As Kaarina notes, she didn’t like the over emphasis on critique and communication with designers. Too often, class time veered off course into a discussion between the three instructors as experienced designers, and she easily lost track of the conversation.
But despite its shortcomings, in the weeks after DHSI I realized just how much I’d learned. I submitted my personal blog for a professional critique, and when opinion came back, realized that it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. I reformatted my dissertation, and recognized while I was doing it that I was applying principles of communicative design I’d learned at DHSI. And I returned to the splash page for my digital edition with fresh eyes and a new sense of what it should look like and what its aesthetics and layout could do. For Kaarina, the course got her thinking about her user personas and what design will best suit their needs. The course also was useful for thinking beyond the material and into the navigation/organization aspects of her digital project, and for giving her some tools and theory for dealing with that shift.
The class is slightly better suited for people who have a designer working for them rather than people who are trying to do the design work themselves, since the course started out with lectures that provided tools for communication with designers and took a little while to get to teaching practical skills. However, the lectures were still a great starting point for DIY-designers as far as gleaning inspiration and being forced to think critically about the purpose of design. In the digital humanities–in all of the humanities–form and function create meaning hand in hand. If you’re interested in enhancing your awareness of how that works on the visual level, or improving your visual vocabulary, VDDH is the course for you.
A few weeks ago, at DHSI, I was giving a demo of a prototype I had built and talking to a class on versioning about TEI, standoff markup and the place of building in scholarship. Someone in the audience said I seemed to exhibit a kind of hacker ethos and asked what I thought about that idea. My on-the-spot answer dealt with standards and the solidity of TEI, but I thought I might use this space to take another approach to that question.
The “more hack less yack” line that runs through digital humanities discussions seems to often stand in for the perceived division between practice and theory, with those scholars who would have more of the latter arguing that DH doesn’t do cultural (among other forms of) criticism. That’s certainly a worthwhile discussion, but what of the division, among those who are making, between those who hack and those who do something else?
I take hacker to connote a kind of flexibility, especially in regards to tools and methods, coupled with a self-reliance that rejects larger, and potentially more stable, organizations. Zines. The command line. Looking over someone’s shoulder to steal a PIN. Knowing a hundred little tricks that can be put together in different ways. There’s also this little graphic that’s been going around recently (and a version that’s a bit more fun) that puts hacking skills in the context of subject expertise and stats knowledge. Here, what’s largely being talked about is the ability to munge some data together into the proper format or to maybe run a few lines of Python.
This kind of making might be contrasted with engineering—Claude Lévi-Strauss has already drawn the distinction between the bricoleur and the engineer, and I think it might roughly hold for the hacker as well. In short, the bricoleur works with what she has at hand, puts materials (and methods?) together in new ways. The engineer sees all (or more) possibilities and can work toward a more optimal solution.
Both the bricoleur and the engineer are present in digital humanities work. The pedagogical benefits of having to work with imperfect materials are cited, and many projects do tend to have the improvised quality of the bricoleur—or the hacker described above. But many other projects optimize. Standards like the TEI, I would argue, survey what is possible and then attempt to create an optimal solution. Similarly, applications and systems, once they reach a certain size, drive developers to ask not what do I know that might solve this problem but what exists that I could learn in order to best solve this problem.
My point here has little to do with either of these modes of building. It’s just that the term “hack” seems to get simplified sometimes in a way that might hide useful distinctions. Digital humanists do a lot of different things when they build, and the rhetorical pressure on building to this point seems to have perhaps shifted attention away from those differences. For scholars interested in the epistemological and pedagogical aspects of practice, I think these differences might be productive sites for future work.
As a result of numerous discussions I have had this year at DHSI with EMiC scholars at all levels of experience—MA students, PhD students, postdocs, and profs from assistant to full, I have put together a proposal for a DHSI course next year. It has not been officially approved, but Ray and Dean are very interested in it and I will be discussing it with them next week.
I thought it would make sense to outline what the aim of this course—actually its double aim—is, and why I think it would be useful for many EMiC-scholars. It would be useful for my discussions with Ray and Dean if I had some sense of whether there is real interest in such a course.
The course would deal with 2 problems simultaneously:
The answers to these problems are 1) to develop enough basic familiarity with the tool you are interested in (such as XSLT, for example) so that you can discuss what you need with a developer partner—a week-long course at DHSI should be enough to do this—and 2) to develop a long-term working relationship with such a partner.
Some background first. I took the XSLT course from Syd and Martin and got a very good grounding in the basics. However, I was able to move on to the point where I can actually use XSLT in my project only because I happen to have a close working and personal relationship with an expert in the field, who happens to be my son. I know enough to write very basic XSLT, but, much more importantly ,I am familiar enough with the concepts and terminology that I can speak to my son and he can speak to me—and together we have produced some pretty sophisticated XSLT which does everything I want it to do. Because of my unusual situation I believe I am the only editor associated with EMiC who actually can work in XSLT—that is, who can turn my TEI files into web pages that people can actually read.
I have been aware of this very troubling situation for some time now. However, I became aware of something else at DHSI this year: everyone I know who is making real progress on their projects has a relationship between a humanist and a developer which is similar to my own. In each case the humanist/developer pair have enough of an understanding of each other’s fields to talk to each other and work together productively. Some examples: Dean Irvine & Alan Stanley and the Modernist Commons, Paul Hjartarson & Harvey Quamen and the Wilfred Watson project, Michael DiSanto & Robin Isard and the George Whalley project. Scholars who do not have such a working relationship seem to me to be in a high state of anxiety, especially graduate students and junior faculty. They feel that they have to acquire mastery of a range of tools while at the same time pursuing their research—when in fact what they really need to do is to acquire a basic understanding of their tools—such as a week-long course at DHSI can provide—PLUS a relationship with someone they can talk to and work with on an ongoing and well-informed basis concerning their plans and needs.
The course I am proposing would have as its aims to model the dynamics of such a relationship—with specific reference to XSLT—and to provide advice on how to develop it. You might compare the NetSquared project which has similar aims in relationship to social-benefit projects. We would begin by outlining the basics of XSLT; we would then go through in detail some of the XSLT we developed for use in the Digital Page project, while at the same time modelling the collaborative process that led to this development; finally we would help the students in the course to create their own XSLT to transform TEI files which they bring to the class. The takeaway for each student would be (1) XSLT files that would generate real HTML files for use in their editions and (2) guidance on how to establish the kind of ongoing working relationship that would result in the development of a wide range of more sophisticated XSLT files. We would invite other successful working partners to speak to (2) with regard to their own projects, and, indeed, in later years a course with a similar focus on collaborative digital humanities work could focus on entirely different aspects of digital humanities, such as databases, or interface design, for example. Taking our cue from Michael DiSanto & Robin Isard I am thinking of calling the course Every Batman Needs a Robin: A Collaborative Approach to XSLT.
A course of this sort will by necessity have limited enrolment—maybe 15—to allow for intensive hands-on mentoring. Because of the heavy emphasis on mentoring, we need to ensure that everyone has the appropriate basic skill set and has given serious thought to what they want their XSLT to produce. Therefore, everyone will be required to submit, before the course begins, 1) a text which they have already marked up in TEI and 2) a clear idea of how they would like it presented, perhaps in the form of a mock-up in Word. The more preparation the instructors can make leading up to the course the better.
If you think you would be interested in such a course, or if you have any suggestions please contact me at email@example.com. If you have a Robin, feel free to bring him or her along.
Ramping up in the wake of Congress, this year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute, or “DHSI” for the acronym-inclined, gathered an unprecedented number of scholars, students, and researchers for training in, you guessed it, the digital humanities. Thanks to support from the Editing Modernism in Canada project (“EMiC”), a course on Digital Humanities Databases was my home for the intensive five-day summer institute that punctuates class time with colloquium and unconference sessions.
Taught by Harvey Quamen, Jon Bath, and John Yobb, the Digital Databases class led us through project planning, MySQL coding (Structured Query Language), database building, and finally, database queries that enable you to ask specific research questions. In short, I mapped out and built a database on Canadian literary adaptations in five days (however minimally populated it may be). When organizing the structure of my database and its multiple tables, I found it very helpful to think of the connected tables as a sentence: there is usually a subject (e.g. person), verb (e.g. adapting), and object (e.g. source). As with literary work, I learned that too much repetition is a bad sign and that spelling counts; the latter was quite horrifying for someone like me who is codependent on autocorrect because there is no autocorrect or red underline to aid in spelling or typos. I also made sure to take advantage of the one-on-one help from Harvey and the Jo(h)ns.
Andrea Hasenbank—an EMiC Doctoral Fellow—introduced the class to a free, online website called “SQL Designer” that not only enabled me to map out nine inter-related tables but also created the MySQL commands. Although seemingly sent from the digital gods, it still requires a background in MySQL in order to understand how to use, navigate, and implement the Designer, but the first three days of the Digital Databases course covers many of the database-specific commands and related structures. For those interested in taking the course and/or trying out SQL Designer, I have a few tips from a novice’s perspective:
- Be sure to save the database design often; I saved mine in my browser under a unique name.
- There is a button that will create foreign keys for you (which link two tables together). At first, I typed in all the foreign keys myself before discovering that the Designer will create and appropriately name foreign keys in junction tables. (For those unfamiliar with databases yet, fret not, this jargon will be all too clear by the end of the course’s first day.)
- There were some glitches for me in the MySQL Code, such as the repetition of the “null” command and the addition of “primary key” commands in junction tables that included no primary keys. Also, be sure to erase the last comma in a list of commands before the closing bracket and/or semicolon.
- I needed to edit the generated MySQL commands in a text editor (such as Text Wrangler) before inputting it into Terminal.
Here is a sample draft of my database design in SQL Designer:
You will notice that the SQL Designer can also encode the column type (primary id, date, foreign key, etc.).
My research investigates how Canadian literature rewrites popular narratives—Greek myth, Shakespearean plays, colonial legend, national histories—by changing the identities of marginalized characters. I examine Canadian revisionist plays that critique cultural figures like Philomela, Othello, and Pocahontas as reductive emblems of layered racial, sexual, and gendered identities. The digital Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, or if you haven’t had enough exciting acronyms, “CASP,” features an online database that has been integral to my research (Daniel Fischlin). Building on CASP, I am interested in creating a database that encompasses multiple sources and enables researchers or students to search Canadian adaptations of Greek mythology, the Bible, and Native mythology, to name a few. You could also, for instance, limit your search by author, date, and/or location that would list all the Canadian adaptations of Ovid, during post-WWI Canada, and/or in Nova Scotia. This database would help establish a wider field of Canadian adaptation studies.
The Digital Humanities Databases course cemented my appreciation of digital tools for literary scholarship . . . as well as my reliance on acronyms. Last but not least, thanks to the Databases course, I now understand why this is funny:
Early(ish) Saturday morning, the Versioning and Collation DHSI workshop had the opportunity to participate in a somewhat impromptu session with Dr. Susan Schreibman — the Long Room Hub Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities in the Department of English at Trinity College Dublin and self-proclaimed representative of the “TEI police” — on her work developing the Versioning Machine.
Susan calls the Versioning Machine “a piece of software in a box designed for non-programmers.” On a most basic level, the software is meant to create editions online: users create single TEI documents which the Versioning Machine (using XSLT) separates into several other documents, or versions. No installations are required because transformations are on the client side of the application.
The Versioning Machine is very much a collaborative effort built by generations of literary scholars, designers, and developers. Admittedly, “the Versioning Machine” is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t really a “machine” — humans do the work, and the software displays the multiple versions of the text.
In developing this program, Susan and her team were and continue to be very concerned with the ethics of versions. What do we privilege? What constitutes an “authoritative” version or edition? Therefore, a chief advantage of the Versioning Machine is that it does not require users to appoint a base text, which means that users do not have to privilege one text over another. In this way, the software offers literary scholars an alternative to the variorum, as well as the opportunity to step back from the more traditional model which privileges the latest published version over earlier versions (for example, how we have viewed and taught the work of Yeats).
The future of the Versioning Machine is bright. For this coming year, Susan has secured funding for a postdoc who will be charged with further developing the software. At this point, however, Susan does not know what the Versioning Machine will look like after this postdoc. Daniel Carter from the Modernist Versions Project spent this past year working on the Versioning Machine, but he ultimately ended up versioning the software. Although the back end of Daniel’s version looks very different from the current version of the Versioning Machine, the front end is still very similar.
One of Susan’s main concerns in developing the Versioning Machine — both in the past and in future design — is the question of how to create “digital stuff that lasts.” It is no longer advisable to design with the two “p” words — perpetuity and proprietary — in mind; instead, Susan intends to create durable data that will last through future migrations. The TEI community, for example, has lasted because of its anticipation of what people will use based on what they are currently using; Susan envisions that kind of durability for the Versioning Machine.
How do new media forms change interpretations and representations of literature at a practical, exhibitionist level? This past spring, students in two graduate courses at the University of Victoria (The Modernist Novel and Intro to Digital Literary Studies) worked under the curatorial guidance of Stephen Ross and Jentery Sayers to figure that out.
Using James Joyce’s Ulysses as its point of reference, the resulting exhibit — The Long Now of Ulysses — combines digital and analogue media both to highlight passages of the text, and to tie those passages, as well as the novel’s themes and motifs in general, to contemporary events, places, etc. The exhibit, which inhabits physical space in the Maltwood Gallery located downstairs in McPherson Library and ethereal space via the Maker Lab website, blends the tangible with the abstract, and in doing so engages the various ways through which the text is mediated.
The Long Now of Ulysses did not arrive without its issues. After the first heady days of brainstorming possibilities which included smell, interactive sound, and a bucket of raw kidneys, the realities of labour and the space took precedence. Many of the co-curators had to become familiar with Ulysses (which is no minor task), while others had to learn new digital tools and procedures. Further, the Maltwood Gallery — although centrally located and attractively situated — shares space with the library, and more particularly, the graduate study carrels. Those concerns limited the auditory possibilities, and effectively curtailed the hoped-for olfactory exhibition.
A significant factor in all aspects of the exhibit has been — somewhat predictably — labour. Instead of including everything Ulysses, the co-curators have had to prioritize, and to cut out those things which are beyond the scope of time and labour. Fortunately, the central concepts, items, and projects have made it through unscathed, and are available for perusal in the exhibit.
The physical side of the Long Now of Ulysses exhibit is now on display in the Maltwood Gallery (downstairs in McPherson Library/Mearns Centre for Learning). Online components are accessible at the Maker Lab website — check it out before August 12.
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.
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!).