Symposium celebrates connection between archives and poetry
For poet and librarian Jan Horner, both poetry and archives offer discovery. Horner’s longstanding interest in the connection between the two has resulted in a poetry collection (her third) based on the life and work of Baronness Else von Freytag Loringhoven, entitled Mama Dada: Songs of the Baroness’s Dog — and now, a symposium that centres on this same connection.
The Archives & Poetry Symposium takes place Thursday, Oct. 29, and will address how archives and poetry intersect, and what they have in common.
What do they have in common? Horner is intrigued by the anomalous or hidden detail that can be uncovered in each. As she puts it, “An archival collection may seem ordinary or dull, but it might reveal much on closer inspection — anomalies in the biography, secrets, or a very personal and compelling voice in private letters or journals.
“Much of what can be found in personal archives is textual, historical, sometimes in older languages or vernaculars, and though described, not always indexed in detail and therefore somewhat hidden. It demands some effort or work to uncover what it may have to offer.”
Horner understands writing and reading poetry as a similar process. “Writing and reading poetry is a kind of exploration of language, of an idea or theme, relying on both unconscious or conscious knowledge.” Discovery occurs for the poet as much as for the reader, she says.
“Poetry is often about taking something ordinary and everyday and turning it on its head,” she adds, “as with William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow, Dennis Cooley’s correction line, Emily Dickinson’s loaded gun.”
The symposium will also focus on questions such as: What can personal papers such as correspondence, manuscripts reveal about poets? What does these offer about their working methods, their intentions, what has influenced them, their influence on others, their secrets? Can the poet find inspiration in archives? Can an archive bring people and past events to life? Is an archive in itself a creative act?
The afternoon symposium runs from 2 to 5 p.m. in Archives & Special Collections, 3rd floor Elizabeth Dafoe Library. A related evening of poetry readings takes place Nov. 5, 7 to 9 p.m. in Archives in Special Collections, 3rd Floor Elizabeth Dafoe Library. It features award-winning poets Méira Cook, Kegan McFadden and Jennifer Still, who will speak about their relationship to archives and libraries and read from their work.
The Archives & Poetry Symposium
The featured speaker is George Bowering, Governor-General’s Award-winning poet, Canada’s first poet laureate, and Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University.
Shelley Sweeney, head archivist, Archives & Special Collection, will review U of M collections related to poetry and the kinds of research and use of the collections in general related to poetry, both as the basis of creative work and as the subject of critical work.
Recent English PhD grad Barbara Romanik will discuss poet Marvin Francis’s papers in the Archives & Special Collections Department with a talk entitled “Fruit Stickers, Chocolate Wrappers, and Poems: Understanding Urban Indigenous Identity and Community through Marvin Francis’ Archives.” Romanik will address the wealth of background material provided by the archives for her dissertation thesis chapter on Francis. In particular, she will focus on what the archive reveals about Francis’s work with, and his relationship to, the Indigenous writing and artistic community in Winnipeg.
Poet Dennis Cooley will speak on Robert Kroetsch’s archives from University of Alberta,which he used for his collection of essays, The Home Place: Essays on Robert Kroetsch’s Poetry, published by U of Alberta Press in fall 2015.
Warren Cariou, director of the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, will talk about the poetry in the Centre’s oral archives, both the Centre’s purpose in developing an oral archive, and the use that’s been made of poetry in their collection.
Jean Baird, creator and chairperson of the Purdy A-Frame project, which has preserved the Purdys’ A-frame in Ameliasburgh, Ontario , re-purposing it as a writing retreat, will speak about her work with the Al Purdy archives. She will also refer to her work, partially in archives, to identify and collect George Bowering’s Okanagan writings. Jean Baird has been an English professor, magazine publisher, consultant for non-profit organizations, and creative director of Canada Book Week for the Writers’ Trust of Canada. She is editing a collection of Bowering’s writings about the Okanagan, which has involved investigation in libraries and archives.
Archives & Poetry Symposium
Thursday, October 29 2015, 2 to 5 p.m.
Archives & Special Collections, 3rd floor Elizabeth Dafoe Library