Researching at the Wellesley Historical Society

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Benjamin Laird

For the past six weeks I have been researching the Denton family collection at the Wellesley Historical Society. The collection is immense and so, unfortunately, I was not able to view all the documents related to William Denton in detail. That is a task that would take a significantly longer time commitment, because the Dentons kept seemingly every piece of paper and small object related to their lives: correspondence, diaries, artefacts, slides, business and legal documents and even posters and tickets from William Denton’s lectures.

I have had expected and unexpected finds while trying to create a fuller picture of Denton’s life. Among the documents I found were Alfred Deakin’s letters to William Denton (letters from Denton to Deakin are with the Papers of Alfred Deakin at the National Library of Australia), allowing me a clearer sense of their relationship and common interests. Of course, there may ...

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Why Denton?

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Benjamin Laird

At my mid-candidature review, where I presented on my PhD progress, I was asked why I had chosen William Denton as the subject of my biographical poetry.

A decade ago, when I was collecting books on early parapsychology and psychical research (a hobby of mine at the time), I found William and Elizabeth Denton’s Nature’s Secrets. This is a UK version of the first volume of The Soul of Things, Denton's three-volume work on psychometry, though this version is special as it was “Edited with an introduction by a clergyman of the Church of England”.

Psychometry is the ability of a person to obtain visions or feelings when exposed to an object or place. William carried out a range of psychometrical experiments with his wife Elizabeth, sister Annie Denton Cridge and his son Sherman. The psychometer (the psychometrically capable person) would see the histories of objects (often ...

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Speculative Computing as Methodology

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Benjamin Laird

Primarily, my project The Code of Things is researching the differences in the representation of a person in biographical poetry across media. This of course has methodological implications: representing a person in biographical poetry requires an approach that takes historical information and reinterprets it as poetry.

In Dorothy Livesay’s essay The Documentary Poem: A Canadian Genre she writes that documentary poetry is “a conscious attempt to create a dialectic between the objective facts and subjective feelings of the poet”. And while I think there are differences between biographical poetry and documentary poetry, I still find Livesay’s suggested dialectic to be at the centre of both kinds of poetry.

Moving biographical poetry into programmable media immediately affects the process of writing poetry. Usually for me, writing print-based poems requires drawing in multiple sources and software—such as LibreOffice and Inkscape. While my poems in programmable media will often follow a ...

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Truth or Beauty and Bloody Jack

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Benjamin Laird

At the end of November I presented a paper at Truth or Beauty: Poetry and Biography in Wellington. It was useful and interesting to hear a range of views on biographical poetry (or verse biography as it was sometimes referred).

I presented on my own works-in-progress but mostly on Dennis Cooley’s Bloody Jack. Bloody Jack, which is loosely about the life of the early twentieth-century Manitoban outlaw John Krafchenko, has two editions. The first was published in 1984 with the second edition—which includes alterations to poems, additional poems and poems moved within the sequence—published in 2002. What is fascinating about the two editions of Bloody Jack is how the representation of John Krafchenko’s life story in them is unstable.

Biographical poetry tends not to get its own description so my starting point was within documentary poetry (which is too wide a category but I will leave that ...

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On Building The Code of Things

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Benjamin Laird

As I push more of the site into operation with real data it is apparent that certain design choices may not have been as great as I would have liked them to be. The advantage of using Django is, so long as I do not do anything weird with primary keys (I already did something weird with the primary key on one of my models and had to rebuild the whole database), I can use migrations to change the structure of the models.

Early on, one of the biggest compromises I made was to make the data fit the very loose data structures I was getting from Zotero. It is both strangely over specified, there are only certain item types you can have, and underspecified, there is no restrictions to the data going in a field, date can be “Spring”. Python is great at converting date data if it knows ...

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