The archivist

1. Ron Silliman, in his recent linkdump, notes: "One of my favorite early poems (i.e. pre-Ketjak) is now available on the web". As if he had no ability to put his poetry on the web, as if getting one's poetry on the web was a hard-won battle. All of Silliman's poetry should be on the web! If it's juvenalia that he's embarrassed by, he doesn't have to publish it; if the poem simply doesn't "translate" into an online format, so be it; if publication rights are controlled by the publisher, oops!; if he simply doesn't have a copy of the journal that this poem was published in, or any archive of the poem -- well, that seems unlikely, and anyway he's in a good position to be able to track such a thing down. If Silliman's poetry isn't available on the web, he has only himself to blame.

2. I read this quote that I disagreed with, and wanted to write a little about it. It reminded me of a piece by David Abel. David is arguably the hardest working poet in Portland, but very little of his work is published, and there is very little online evidence of it. I couldn't remember all the details about the piece, and there was no online (nor offline) archive that I could check. When I lived in Portland, David's work (like the work of all my poety friends in Portland) was there, was present in the air; now that I'm in Toronto, it is not. Being in Portland was being in the David Abel archive, as it was continually being built and rebuilt, organized and reorganized. And now, yes, it's not as if I couldn't e-mail David and ask him for the details of the piece. But also it would be nice to be able to point to it, point others to it, and incorporate it into my thinking here, into my living/archiving in Toronto. And yet at the same time I want to resist the pull to archive everything, and I want to encourage living where you are, when you are, allowing the past to be past without dragging it to the present, allowing elsewhere to remain elsewhere, allowing becoming who you are rather than being who you have been. And yet it would be nice to have access to all this. And yet, and yet, and yet.

3. Which is to say: Is poetry a gift economy? Is memory a gift economy?

Update: I have since written a little bit about David's piece.


  1. Paul Gibbons said...

    I'm not sure if I would call memory a gift economy because I wonder if it is an economy at all . . . but what I really want to drop in here is to say that I think when poetry is at its best, it is a gift economy, done and performed with no pretension to "getting something back for it." Interesting question.  

  2. Sam Lohmann said...

    But what's the quote you disagreed with? And what did it remind you of? (Or is your reticence the whole point, which I'm missing?)  

  3. Chris said...

    Oh I e-mailed David, and if I get info from him, then I'll follow-up. I guess I didn't want to conflate this line of thought with the line of thought that sparked it.  

  4. Chris said...

    Paul, to follow up with that: Do we remember things in order to "get something back"? Are memories resources, capital that we can cultivate into more valuable resources? Can they be given as gifts?

    When we travel, do we convert money and effort into memories?

    (Not that memories are discrete objects, like apples.)

    Obviously we should all rewatch Total Recall tonight.  

  5. Paul Gibbons said...

    Hmmm, I suppose I can view memory as an economy, though I think some times memory can simply happen (or not, as in blocked memories) in a biological sense. Now that I think about it some more, there's always the family stories, tribal tales, myths, jokes, etc that are a collective memory that could be a "gift economy," since the value in the telling or giving isn't so much a trade -- though I can think of how this converted memory is constantly made into an economy in the dollars and cents version as well. I won't take up any more space here, but it's an interesting question. Oh, but perhaps memories can also NOT be an economy as well (I just had a coffee and it's now a memory kind of thing). Ok, I'll really leave it there for now.  


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