Saturday, August 17, 2013

'Tis the Last Rose of Summer: LARC at WU

Folks in the P&PC Office have spent a good portion of the last two weeks revving up for the school year: we've been buying new magic markers, trying on the latest hip jeans and gym shoes, putting together our Trapper Keepers, designing syllabi for two classes focusing on the poetry of Walt Whitman, and wistfully reflecting on Thomas Moore's "last rose of summer / left blooming alone." School starts next week, and we're excited—don't get us wrong. But we also don't want to leave summer, because leaving summer means leaving our LARC summer research team—a grant-funded group of three Willamette faculty and four Willamette students who have been working independently and collaboratively on projects related to "The Age of Projection: Remediation, Reformation, and Revolution."

Every summer for three or four years now, Willamette University's Mellon-funded LARC (Liberal Arts Research Collaborative) program has been making it possible for faculty and students to do collaborative, interdisciplinary research in the humanities. Set up in part to discover potential models for humanities-based student-teacher research at small undergraduate universities, LARC provides funds for students (living space for the summer plus a stipend) and faculty to work in teams on proposed projects. And this year P&PC got a chance to take part. Along with Abigail Susik (Art History), Anna Cox (Spanish and Film Studies), and four students (Andrea Adachi, Hannah Brown, Emma Jonas, and Amy Snodgrass), we pursued projects based in some way on how projection- and other screen-based media affected literature, art, film, politics, and graffiti over the course of the twentieth century. (See our proposal and five others here.)

So what did we all do? Well, P&PC pursued its current fascination with the projection of poetry via magic lantern at the turn of the century—the first time in history, we believe, when people began to commonly experience reading as something that happens off of the handwritten or printed material page. (See a couple of our past postings on the subject here and here; that's an example of a lantern poetry slide pictured just above.) For us, this moment not only sets in motion an age of screen reading leading up to the computer and e-reader, but it also gives us a historical starting point to help nuance our discussions about the "death of print." As it turns out, the hegemony of print reading was coming under pressure long before digital media, and the fact that poetry—popular poetry, natch—was central to this phenomenon makes us rethink (for one) the roles poetry played in the development of modern life and (two) how poetry scholars might do well to better account for the proliferation of poetry in non-print media formats over the course of the twentieth century.

For their part, Abigail and Emma both studied the incorporation of projection into contemporary new media art and graffiti practices (they even attended the Elektra International Digital Arts Festival in Montreal); Anna and Hannah studied the aesthetic and political pressures that Spanish filmmakers faced under Franco's dictatorship (Hannah spent time in the Basque country for part of her project); and Andrea sort of partnered with all of us as she studied how the ephemeral poetic graffiti of Quito, Ecuador (such as the example pictured here) has found an unexpected permanence or afterlife via preservation and documentation online.

Just as Abigail worked closely with Emma, and Anna worked closely with Hannah, so P&PC worked especially closely with our seventh team member, Amy Snodgrass, who studied the the proliferation of new poetry reading and writing experiences enabled by digital and online media ranging from the programmed works of single authors to the group-generated haiku "discussions" of Craigslist. (Why someone hasn't yet written in a prominent way about the haiku "discussion forum" of every city's Craigslist is a wonder to us!) Check out some of the poems that Amy took as the initial objects of her study:

"Separation/S├ęparation" by Annie Abrahams
"Sooth" and other poems by David Johnston
"Soliloquy" by Kenneth Goldsmith
"The Sweet Old Etcetera," a set of e.e. cummings poems choreographed by Alison Clifford
"Toucher" by Serge Bourchardon, Kevin Carpentier, and Stephanie Spenle
"Fitting the Pattern" by Christine Wilks
"This is How You Will Die" by Jason Nelson

Our students will all be presenting their projects to the W.U. community this Fall, by which time summer will be mostly a distant image in the rear-view mirror. But make no mistake about it. Both our formal meetings and discussions (every member of the team led a three-hour group discussion about his or her research) and our informal gatherings and sharings were eye-opening, energizing, and inspiring, and we'll remember them and continue learning from them for a long time. Thank you, Mellon. Thank you, LARC administrators. And thank you, Abigail, Anna, Andrea, Emma, Hannah, and Amy. We loved every minute of it.