Eclipse describes itself as performing two tasks. First as “a free on-line archive focusing on digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing from the last quarter century.” And then second, “Eclipse also publishes carefully selected new works of book-length conceptual unity.”
I’d like to spend some time on the first part. Where and how did the archive begin?
The project began — something like 15 years ago now — at the conjunction of three historical trajectories. First, many of the small-press books of radical poetry from the late 70s and 1980s, which had been published in limited runs of just a few hundred copies, were becoming inaccessible (the last copy sold from Small Press Distribution, no longer on the shelves at used bookstores, and so on).
At the same time, many of the publishers of those books were losing steam, folding, shifting their aesthetic attentions, and so on (Eclipse is named as a sort of hubristic homage to Douglas Messerli’s Sun & Moon press).
As someone committed to teaching such work, and to having a rigorous scholarly treatment of such work, I realized that its availability to students and researchers was imperative. I was alarmed that people were making pronouncements about certain kinds of poetry even though they had never seen most of the primary material (you can see the same thing happening today, by the way, with regard to “Conceptual Writing”), and I worried that canon would remain unchanged if even the mere access to avant-garde texts were relegated to a select few and could be ignored and vilified by conservative critics whose uninformed claims about the work could go unchallenged.
And now regarding the second task, could you say more about the carefully selected new works you’re publishing?
This goes back, in some ways, to the origin of Eclipse in the wake of the decline or demise of the small-press publishers who had defined a certain avant-garde in the ’70s and ’80s. Their books had inspired a new generation of writers who were doing very different kinds of writing, stylistically, and pursuing a different poetics, but who had taken the provocations and permissions of the previous generation and done something unexpected and new.
But there weren’t the same publishing opportunities. So Eclipse tries to imagine what works those presses might have published had they evolved along with the new writing.
One of the other criteria is that they not just be collections of poems, but through-composed works with a strong conceptual integrity.
And in certain cases we’ve tried to take advantage of the affordances of the web: publishing a Bruce Andrews text that is structured like a three-dimensional cube, and so easier to navigate on-line (not to mention that its sheer size would be prohibitively expensive and troublesome to bind as a conventional book); publishing a version of Donato Mancini’s amazing Ligature in a version that loops in a continuous single line (again, not the sort of thing a conventional codex can accommodate in any practical way); or the audio-art of Nick Thurston’s Erased Motion Poems; and so on.
The archive showcases a few different categories of writing. I’d like to ask you about two of them. First, the “Language Centered Tendencies” and second “The Black Radical Tradition.” For the uninitiated reader, completely unaware of what to expect from these categories — or perhaps only marginally aware — how would you characterize what’s in store for them in their first encounter with the materials found in these two categories?
I should say first that I think of those classifications less as firm categories and more like magnifying lenses that bring some of the collection’s holdings into focus — they are post-hoc ways of drawing some connections between works that were already in the archive, and that I saw speaking to one another. They’re just one possible set of filters.
In any case, the “Language-Centered Tendency” is an attempt to contextualize work from the moment I’ve just mentioned: small-press poetry from the 70s and 80s that rejected the dominant ideology of “voice”, embraced a theoretically informed writing that was unafraid of difficulty and intellectual aspirations, and which in the process explored an abstracted writing of diminished reference.
The “Black Radical Tradition” (a phrase I borrow from Fred Moten) is a reminder to those who would imagine “the whiteness of the avant-garde” — a claim that’s been circulated recently by certain poets and scholars who seem to have little knowledge of literary history and an unsophisticated theoretical understanding of the issues involved.
I hope that the work on Eclipse will serve as a concrete reminder that histories are always more complicated than partisans make them out to be, and that it will disrupt two preconceptions, so that people don’t reflexively think of a white writer when they hear “avant-garde poet”, and might come to reflexively think “avant-garde” when they hear “African American Literature”.
You raise the important issue of race and its historical relationship to the avant-garde. What do you see the documents in the “Black Radical Tradition” section doing to complicate the critical misconceptions you identify? And for those readers who aren’t familiar with the literary history and theory you mention, how might these documents help them gain a greater knowledge?
The main point is that histories are always more complicated than we’d like — or than we can even tell. Narrating necessarily involves simplifications, which is good for the stories we want to tell, but not for the particulars. So part of why Eclipse has minimal editorial framing is to let those particulars proliferate until they trouble and disrupt the various stories they’re become a part of. Some of those stories (and the misconceptions they perpetuate) have to do with conceptual and procedural and formal concerns, in contrast to thematic concerns, or visual poetry and sound poetry in contrast to discursive narrative, or écriture in contrast to orality and voice, or intellect in contrast to emotion; and so on.
I suspect that whatever preconceptions one might have about *any* of the categories at stake, there’s a book on Eclipse that will require rethinking and revision.
Where might you recommend a new reader start their adventure in the Eclipse archive? Presuming all the material is totally indispensable, are there specific must-see documents you’d prioritize?
More than those two categories, which are really both types of social constructions, I think of the gravitational centre of Eclipse as a certain kind of social construction materialized into a format: the little magazine or small-press journal. I’d start with Beau-Cocoa and the issue of Toothpick, Lisbon& the Orcas Islands and poke around in those.
Among all the writers found in the archive, could you identify a couple standouts who you feel have been most egregiously overlooked? Who deserves more attention than they’ve received to date? Who among them should we now turn our attention?
I’ve found Robert Grenier to be a surprisingly divisive figure: some people who are otherwise on-board with radical poetics often dismiss him entirely, while for others with less patience of the avant-garde he becomes an absolute *favorite* poet. Russell Atkins, whose collected books have been on Eclipse from its early days, is very slowly beginning to get more attention, but whenever I reread his work, or teach one of his books, I’m astonished that he’s not widely considered to be one of the indisputably major figures of post-war poetry; Barbara Barracks’ work is as extraordinary as it is unknown; I predict Abraham Lincoln Gillespie is the next modernist to be rediscovered, in line with Mina Loy and Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; and if Frank Kunstler, Peter Inman, and Norman Pritchard were widely known, our entire map of late 20th century writing would have to be redrawn . . . .
Do you see the archive as complete in its current version, or are you still actively acquiring materials?
It’s always expanding and morphing. I scanned a half-dozen new books just this month. And Danny Snelson, my co-editor, is going to open an entire new “gallery” soon, putting the archive into dialogue with the revolution in print-on-demand publications. Plus we have whole shelves of periodicals that will come on-line in the next year.
At the same time, I’m well aware that the site won’t be around forever. Technologies change. What once seemed ubiquitous and permanent evaporates with amnesiac transience. Eclipse has been extraordinarily long-lived, in internet years. Especially when you think of all the projects with far more resources that are no longer with us. But until it disappears entirely — until it’s completely eclipsed — there’s more interesting writing that’s fallen out of print than it could ever hope to resurrect.