The future in the past 

By Russ Cooper

Department of English Professor and Chair Jason Camlot Magnifying glass

Department of English Professor and Chair Jason Camlot

While he may spend much of his time in an era long gone, English Professor and department Chair Jason Camlot always keeps one ear on the future.

His primary area of expertise is Victorian Studies, but Camlot has spent much of his time since 2002 focusing his research on the history of sound recording.

His hard work and ear-to-the-ground have yielded quite a positive reputation as an accomplished poet and researcher. His work includes the publication of five books, numerous high-profile speaking engagements, and an appointment as one of 30+ Local Arrangement Coordinators (LAC – those helping to arrange for the needs of individual societies) at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2010, here at Concordia for the first time next May.

More than 70 academic societies and 9 000 delegates will be attending Congress – the biggest academic event in Concordia’s history.

Now in his second year as English Department Chair, Camlot will be serving as the LAC for the Canadian Association of Chairs in English (CACE) conference, which will gather chairs of all English departments in Canada.

“CACE will be discussing issues from administrative matters, such as running a department under constrained budgets, to more intellectually interesting subjects, such as the future of English studies,” Camlot says.

Outside his Congress responsibilities, one of his current projects is the creation of an online catalogue of recordings from the SGWU Poetry Series. Taking place here between 1962 and ‘75, the series, curated by members of the English Department, invited prominent poets from Canada and the U.S. to show off their poetic chops, and was recorded for posterity.

Organizers welcomed “nearly every prominent North American poet of the time,” including Robert Creele and Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg, as it turns out, had a unique fondness for presenting in Quebec thanks to the connection his good friend Jack Kerouac had to the province. While born in Lowell, Massachusetts and considered perhaps the personification of literary Americana, Kerouac was the son of emigrants from Quebec. On his mother’s side, he was related to René Lévesque.

“Montreal was known as the poetry capital in the 40s and 50s. In the 60s, it was still working in a lyric mode associated with Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, when more open-form poetics were catching on elsewhere,” he says. “In a sense, this archive is a way to hear Montreal poetics encountering poetics from all over the world and redefining itself.”

Camlot recently received a grant from the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies, and hired a few grad students to help transcribe and contextualize the 250 hours of audio which will soon be online as a pdf reference tool, followed by the online listening archive within the next year.

“It’s interesting documentation of what poetry meant in the 60s. It really reflects the era in which it was created,” he says.

In the era of today’s virtual world, Camlot is also sharing his research with the interdisciplinary research videogame development initiative Technoculture, Art and Games; or TAG (see Journal, April 2, 2009).

Using his research in sound recording and poetry recitation, “the larger question we’re interested in asking is, ‘how can we use the underused vocal interface to create narrative action in video games?’,” he says.

“The starting point is a game equivalent of Guitar Hero, sort of like ‘Recitation Hero’,” he laughs.

Camlot will also be presenting at the 11th annual Modernist Studies Association conference, to be held at the Delta Centre-Ville Nov. 5 to 8. He’s arranged a panel entitled, “Hearing (in) Modernity” that will cover the history of sound recording as it relates to the literary studies.

An accomplished poet as well (see Journal, March 22, 2007), Camlot will also be participating in a gala poetry reading (organized by his English Department colleague, Omri Moses) showcasing local poets. Among the presenters will be Sina Queryas, one of six Concordians recently nominated for a Governor General’s Literary award (see Accolades). Along with other poets from McGill and UdeM, “we’ll be showing off our own poetic chops,” he says.

Check out the Congress 2010 site to see Camlot discuss his role on video and to learn more about Congress at Concordia.


Concordia University