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 still be missing correspondence and, on top of that, their handwriting can be difficult to decode.
Read Researching at the Wellesley Historical Society
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”.
Read Why Denton?
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.
Read Speculative Computing as Methodology
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.
Read Truth or Beauty and Bloody Jack
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 what it is getting so I manually (and still do for new references and sources coming in) converted the date data on all my Zotero items to ISO 8601.
Read On Building The Code of Things