Archive of the Digital Present for Online Literary Performance in Canada (COVID-19 Pandemic Period)
The last “live” poetry reading listed on the “Where Poets Read” literary events listing site, before COVID‑19 pandemic restrictions were required, was for “Épiques Voices” held in Montreal, March 10th, 2020. Between March 12th and March 29th, the listing shows a series of notices for “cancelled” or “postponed” shows. And then, on March 30th we see a listing for “The Words and Music Show ONLINE!” Since that date (according to our preliminary count) literary organizers, festivals, writers’ associations, English departments, publishers, and individual writers, have hosted over 1000 literary events from locations across Canada using platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, Crowdcast, Instagram and YouTube.
Archive of the Digital Present for Online Literary Performance in Canada (COVID-19 Pandemic Period) is a research and development project that will examine the effects, impact and meaning of social constraints arising from our recent and ongoing pandemic period upon literary activities, scenes, and practices in Canada, through focused study of literary events as they have been presented online since March 2020.
The project will engage in three interrelated initiatives: 1) the development of a searchable, open access database and directory to audiovisual documentation of pandemic-period online literary events, 2) the collection of oral histories about the experiences of these events as told by organizers, literary practitioners and audience members, and 3) critical analysis and theorization of the aesthetic, cultural and phenomenological import of these forced virtual environments for experiences of literary listening, performance and community.
The practical objectives informing the user-centered development of the database and directory The Archive of the Digital Present (ADP) are to yield new awareness among literary curators and practitioners of the importance of linked open data for the AV documentation they produce, and to map out and document a set of processes, beta systems and interfaces that will lay groundwork for a grassroots archival discovery system of wide impact and use. The development work will thus be pursued through an iterative process of design and feedback from scholars and members of the literary community who have been involved in these readings and events. A broader aim is to provide the archival structure and methods necessary to make this important phase in the history of literary performance available for study by curators, artists and researchers, from a wide range of disciplines.
This development of research-focused interfaces for the meaningful presentation of metadata to researchers, students, artists and the public, will be informed and augmented by an oral history protocol that will extend relationships with a diverse range of literary community members into a series of interviews that will contrast life-story memories of literary events from the distant past with focused accounts of the aesthetic, affective, and phenomenological experience of virtual literary gatherings of the historical present.
The rich sets of data and qualitative accounts of pandemic-period literary events will be explored in a series of papers, articles and podcasts, with methods informed by audiotextual criticism, and phenomenological and media historical approaches from sound studies, with a particular interest in defining the experiential nature of pandemic listening, presence, community, temporality, mediation, and space within the context of this unique historical period for literary expression, dissemination, and community formation.