The Poetics of the Archive: Creativity and Community Engagement with the Bloodaxe Archive

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of English Literature,Language an

Abstract

The archive of Bloodaxe books, newly acquired by Newcastle University, is one of the most exciting archives for contemporary poetry that exists. The challenge is to unlock its meaning and use by seeing it as more than a scholarly resource, accessible through a standard search-based catalogue, and to allow more creative, open-ended and playful interactions with it. These interactions are made possible through a reframing of the traditional idea of an archive, by challenging the notion of search as simply objective, and designing new kinds of web interface with the archive. The research draws on textual theory and deconstruction, new thinking within museum studies and current research in computing science and Information Retrieval which sees the potential in dialogic structures. Two research processes will underpin this project. One is to bring together a number of community groups of amateur and professional poets, and school groups, who will have access to the physical archive, and who will then participate in (1) producing creative responses to the archive and generating new materials (2) designing new digital interfaces, which enable and follow their explorations and thinking about poetry. The second research process is to bring together a multidisciplinary group of researchers who can forge a new interdisciplinary framework for thinking about literary archives, and about the enabling of creativity through participatory workshops. The project will draw on an impressive range of expertise from Newcastle University's Digital Interaction Group in Computing Science, located in Culture Lab, already core partners in two AHRC-funded projects, from English and Creative Writing, where some of the UK's pre-eminent poets are on the staff, and Fine Art, where there is already expertise in the visualisation of collections and archives. This project will produce three kinds of digital outputs: a search catalogue, a 'generous', exploratory, interface which will enable multiple forms of visualisation, aggregation and comparison of archive content, and an application programming interface (API), which will drive these and other novel representations. The visual material will be generated by the digitisation of those part of the physical archive cleared for copyright, new 'born digital' materials created through filmed interviews, readings and conversations, and different visual representations of the archive, and artistic mash-ups. These all will form the outcomes of the project but there will also be an interim symposium and a conference/ festival and exhibition which will draw a wide public audience. The project will engender interest in contemporary poetry for diverse groups, and work with school groups will be represented by specific access points to the website which will support its future use in schools. The methodology, research insights and their implementation will be transformative, and will drive research agendas on literary archives and their use and representation for the future.

Planned Impact

This interdisciplinary project on the Bloodaxe archive will bring together a large number of poets, writers and readers through community groups who have no institutional or academic affiliation but who have formidable levels of expertise. They represent a community of practice whose knowledge and creativity is not generally either recognised or called on by academic specialists. There are important bridges to be built between the University, literature specialists and readers and writers in the community. Our developing relationship with the Poetry School will allow us to access many other such poets and poetry enthusiasts nationally, and whilst it is impossible to work directly on this project with all of them, the asset that is being created for the future will provide tools for it to be shaped and expanded through ongoing interaction with different groups.
NCLA and its public engagement work will provide a context for the project; NCLA also works closely with the Poetry Society, the British Council, the Scottish Poetry Library and members of the project team, Herbert, Kay and O'Brien, are active in the national and international poetry scene and will bring other possibilities of engagement worldwide.

A public conference/festival and exhibition at the end of the funded project will attract a wide audience, and we will invite poets (from Bloodaxe's extensive catalogue) and poetry specialists to speak. The festival will coincide with an exhibition which will be an opportunity to display the visual materials and visualisations, including films, and draw in different audiences. Bea Colley, participation producer at the Southbank Centre, has already expressed an interest in showing films and hosting the exhibition, and we would see this as an exciting way of broadening our scope to other audiences and attracting media interest. The involvement of Alice Quinn, Director of the Poetry Society of America, will ensure the project is reported on in USA, and we will be eager to follow up all touring opportunities for the films and exhibition. The possibility of Beatrice Rubens, BBC radio producer, making a programme about the project has already been discussed and we have already worked successfully with her on a programme to be broadcast BBC Radio 4, 24 October, 2013 about a poetry installation.

Work with schools opens up another development and the instigation of a new A-Level in Creative Writing provides a context for collaboration between schools and University in the area of creative writing. Providing different access points to the asset and encouraging new ways of interacting with it by schools not just locally but nationally is an exciting future prospect.

Materials relating to the process of the project will be incorporated into the website, and there will also be a final report setting out directions for the future. We aim to set up new ways not just of communicating with but joining with poetry enthusiasts in building an asset which is open and evolving, and which challenges them with new frameworks and aggregations of knowledge, surprising conjunctions and inspirations to creativity.

Publications

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Title 'Brise Marine'; 'El Desdichado' 
Description Poems by Katherine Towers written as a participant in the Poetics of the Archive, republished in Collection The Remedies (Picador, 2017) 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The Poetics of the Archive project is acknowledged in this collection which was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. 
URL http://www.picador.com/authors/katharine-towers
 
Title 'In the Air' 
Description film animation by Kate Sweeney based on interview material from Bloodaxe Archive 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Shown at O'Bheal International Short Film Festival, Cork, Ireland, 2016; Transport Arts Festival, Northern Stage, Newcastle Upon Tyne UK, 2016 
URL http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk/explore/index.html#/gallery
 
Title Conversations for an Archive 
Description A series of filmed conversations with 4 American and 4 UK poets. Interviews by Colette Bryce and Ahren Warner and Filmed by Kate Sweeney 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Film shown at The International Poetry Festival, Southbank Festival Hall, July 2014 Open Collaborative Making: A Digital Perspective, Bristol, September, 2014 
URL http://bloodaxearchive@ncl.ac.uk
 
Title Material 
Description A film which represents the project and its outcomes using interview, poem, images made by Kate Sweeney 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Shown at Digging into the data showcase, Glasgow University, 28 January, 2016 
URL https://vimeo.com/138440112
 
Title Portrait of Self as Akhmatova 
Description Pencil drawing 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Shortlisted for the Derwent Prize International Drawing Competition Exhibited Mall Galleries, london, 15 - 20 September 2014 Trowbridge Arts Festival 29 October - 22 November 2014 
 
Title The Marginalia Machine 
Description A machine which reads and separates marginalia from digitized pages and performs the printing of marginalia from the Bloodaxe in a continuous scroll 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Exhibited at 'Outside In/Inside Out, Unnamed Terrains, Many Studios, Glasgow UK, 2016; Poetry International, South Bank Centre, London, 2015 
URL http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk/explore/index.html#/gallery
 
Description We have creative a new archival resource in the field of contemporary poetry, accessible through the Archives Hub

We have produced an innovative digital interface, which itself has no database but takes a data export form the archives hub data produced by the archivist and makes a related but separate data ontology. The use of frameworks like angular js in the context of cultural collections remains relatively unexplored. It produced a system where the capacity to link to other data sources (BL API for example) becomes relatively easy technically and responsive for the end user.

We used computer vision techniques and open source Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine 'Tesseract' to extract editorial and margin notes from the archive manuscripts. The resulting images of the notes were included in the interface and were also the focus of an automated Twitter 'bot'. Thhis kind of 'live' technological response to archiving has no precedence in archival research.

We have pioneered the creative use of archives for poets, convening a group of 35 poets who had access to archival materials at an early stage and produced creative outputs from poems, to films and music, which are all held on the interface site under in gallery, under showcase: http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk
Exploitation Route The digital interface we have created provides an innovative model for others, and a source of linking across other digital archives in the field of poetry and literature. This linking across archival sites should be taken forward in the future by ourselves or others.

The method we have used of creative interaction with archives sites is also an exciting model for the futures and demonstrates the idea of archives as fertile ground not just for scholarly research but also creative interaction
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

URL http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk
 
Description The award also supported The Newcastle Poetry Festival 2015, a festival also one to the public, where many of the creative and digital outputs were performed/displayed. It has also supported subsequent festivals in 2016 and 2017 which included exhibitions from the archive
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Title The Bloodaxe Archive 
Description a. Data binding The Bloodaxe Archive interface has no database. Instead it binds a set of linked .json files to html using the javascript framework 'angular.js'. This allows for extremely responsive search and forms the basis for the many visualisation facets of the interface (for instance the data distribution graph visible on the 'books' facet here . The use of frameworks like angular in the context of cultural collections interfaces remains relatively unexplored with only a few examples known at the time of production. This structure makes the capacity to link to other data sources (as we do with British Library API data in http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk/explore/index.html#/data) technically trivial and responsive for the end user. b. Relationship to archive data The interface takes a data export from the archives hub data produced by the archivist and makes a related but separate data ontology. Importantly though this data is augmented by the production of a number of generative processes. These are: 1. Marginalia data - we and our colleagues in computer science used computer vision techniques and the open source Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine 'Tesseract' to extract editorial and margin notes from the archive manuscripts. The resulting images of the notes were included in the interface and were also the focus of an automated Twitter 'bot' realised in Python (see https://twitter.com/bloodaxearchive). Our bot was actually connected to the university file system and tweeted when new materials were digitised. This kind of 'live' technological response to archiving we believe has no precedence in archive research. 2. Shape data - using image processing techniques (quantisation/image segmentation) we produced a 'search by shape' facet to the interface http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk/explore/index.html#/shapes. This is (we believe) an unprecedented search tool in a literary archive. 3. Text mining - we augment the manuscripts with a set of 'significant words'. Using Python's Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) applied to the OCR'd texts we produced a ranked list of Term-Frequency vs Inverse-Document-Frequency terms for each item. These are visible at the item level but are also used with other meta data in search and filtering. This we propose as an efficient and appropriate method of archive search (rather than searching the entire corpus for instance). 4. Word distance theming. We used word distancing techniques to match terms (and consequently manuscripts) to inductively produced themes (such as weather, flowers, sex). The results of this informed a context for producing network graph visualisations here http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk/explore/index.html#/words . 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Invitations to AHRC events 
URL http://bloodaxe.ncl.ac.uk
 
Title The Bloodaxe Archive Collection on Archives Hub 
Description The is the standard catalogue for the Bloodaxe Books Archive, which open, in the sense of still being added to. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Presented as : 'Poetics of the Archive; Critical Interface Design in the Research Archive (Rebecca Bradley, Bloodaxe Project Archivist) for the Archives and Records Association, UK and Ireland Annual Conference (27th - 29th August 2014). That paper was also featured in summary in ARC Magazine (the magazine of the Archives and Records Association, No. 303, Nov 2014 Conversation in the Archive, Reflection on the value of knowledge sharing at the ARA Conference 2014 
URL http://archiveshub.ac.uk/search/summary.html?recid=gb186-bxb&rsid=52bfa12&hit=0&startRecord=1&maximu...
 
Description 'Work' Video poem by Kate Sweeney and Anna Woodford, based on Bloodaxe Archive 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of a film at an international poetry film festival, Zebra, Muenster, Germany, based on work done in the Bloodaxe Archive during the AHRC project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.zebrapoetryfilm.org/2018/en/filme/work.htm/
 
Description Drawing by Alan Turnbull, 'Portrait of the Artist as Anna Akhmatova widely exhibited 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibitions:

Mall Galleries, London 15 -20 Sept 2014

Trowbridge Arts Festival 29 October - 22 November 2014

Jerwood Space, London 16 Sept -25 Oct 2015

Cheltenham Art Gallery 21 Nov - 3 Jan 2016

Canterbury, Sydney Cooper Centre 11 Feb - 9 April 2016

Falmouth Art Gallery 23 April - 25 June 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
 
Description Exhibition from Bloodaxe Archive 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An exhibition of materials from the Bloodaxe Archive with short description was mounted in Robinson Library at the time of the Newcastle Poetry Festival 2 -5 May 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Newcastle Poetry Festival 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The culmination of the research was a poetry festival at which all the participants performed their work, and where researchers exhibited their work. The festival also invited poets internationally to perform, most of them Bloodaxe poets, and these readings and discussions were filmed and will become part of the Bloodaxe digital archive. Susan Stewart and Mark Doty from USA also presented their work, and enabled a dialogue between UK and USA poets. There was a roundtable discussion about archives with Andrew Prescott, Jackie Kay, Richard Price, Linda Anderson, Neil Astley, on which Andrew Prescott has drawn in AHRC publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.newcastlepoetryfestival.co.uk
 
Description Workshop on Bloodaxe Archive to British Library Librarians 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented an overview of the project of of the Bloodaxe Archive and its digital version to Librarians and professional practitioners at the British Library, London The presentation was linked by Skype to British Library at Boston Spa as well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018