So… it’s Friday night and instead of going out my wife and I have come home to eat pear and celeriac soup and write a blog post about archiving poetry and spoken word. Though, I have recently given up drinking and I’m still in the limbo of not really knowing what to do on a Friday when the pub isn’t an option. Edit: this post is much longer than I anticipated! Sorry xx
A few things happened today that were so closely linked that they starkly highlighted what it is that drives me to continue to produce this series (episode 108 being recorded tomorrow!). This morning I signed the acquisition forms to officially begin archiving all LPP episodes and transcripts at The British Library, then at lunchtime I headed down to The Watershed in Bristol to take part in an interactive literature project as part of Ambient Literature. This project is looking at how we can use the tracking software in our smartphones to produce a map of the participants’ movements as they follow pre-recorded instructions whilst also reading an accompanying book. It’s much simpler to follow than my explanation and aims to question what it is exactly we’re trying to map or archive during the process. What is the point of mapping our movements and can we ever map the emotions and feelings during the walk?
During the walk a conversation began on Twitter about how to best archive spoken word in the UK. This post is going to be an attempt to explain how I feel poets and spoken word folk might begin to address this issue. I’m going to assume that those of you reading this already feel that it’s necessary to archive what’s happening as the question of whether it is or is not necessary will be too distracting.
The first thing I think we need to do is recognise that there are already established routes for the archiving of our work. If you produce pamphlets, books, zines or any printed material you should be producing a couple of extra copies and sending them to either the National Poetry Library in London, the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh or the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth. This is not an exhaustive list and I’m sure even your local library would be interested.
If you produce audio recordings of any form then you could do what I did which is to contact the British Library ‘Sounds’ department as they’re very keen to archive all forms of spoken word, especially that recorded onto obsolete formats. Dig out your mini-discs!! PennSound in the States also archive unpublished poetry audio.
It’s a little trickier and far more expensive if you produce video work but I learned today that the British Library also have the facility to archive video so if you want to secure the future of your Youtube channel it’s probably worth contacting the ‘Sounds’ department and asking who you need to speak to. I’ll be posting more about this as I find out more.
Some archiving/documentary projects you might not be aware of are The Poetry Archive, Andrea Brady’s fantastic Archive Of The Now, Muddy Feet Poetry on Youtube as well as Tyrone Lewis’ efforts to document everything that passes his eyes (which is a lot!).
I’m trying to work out a few things in my head at the moment and as I’m so obsessed with process I thought I might list some of the questions that I’ve asked myself (and others) about the process of archiving:
- Why are we archiving?
- Is archiving a natural part of our practice or is it an act of legacy making?
- If it’s a mixture of the two, at what point do you want the archive to be available to the public? Will it ever be?
- Are we archiving our work only in it’s current state? Are we assuming certain formats always remain relevant? Are you prepared for ink to fade from paper, digital formats to become obsolete? Do you care about any of this? If you do care, have you made allowances for the costs of potentially re-formatting or conserving existing formats? How do these factors differ if you produce both analogue and digital work?
- Where will your archive be housed? Will you be in charge of this? How much maintenance will this require? Universities offer a natural home for research material but can be a little restrictive when it comes to granting access in the future. The British Library archives are very accessible but their collection is so vast I worry that the Lunar Poetry Podcast episodes I’ve donated will just get lost amongst all the other recordings.
- Are you prepared to cede copyright to a third party in exchange for the upkeep of the archive? Are you able, in fact, to transfer the copyright if needed? Is it yours to transfer?
- Are you currently obtaining permission from participants in your various projects for you to potentially hand over some of the rights to a third party?
- How are people ever going to be aware of this archive? Have you made allowances, both financially and in terms of time and labour, for the promotion of any archive?
- Will your archive be a simple ‘backing-up’ of published work or do you want it to sit alongside and feed into the work and practice of other artists? Do you want your archive to add to an established and growing body of work? If so, how will this be achieved? I was recently interviewed by Katie Ailes as part of her phd research and whilst the links between LPP and her research may seem obvious, the question of how we physically and academically link them is actually quite complicated.
I think I’ll leave this here. If you have any thoughts about all this nonsense then I’d love to here from you. This is not supposed to be a definitive list or set of instructions as I’m very much at the starting line when it comes to thinking about the purposes of archiving. I just think it’s really important to share the thought processes behind ideas like this.