Binghamton Community Poets' Big Horror Reading Series
Aynur de Rouen
Alexxa O Bisnar (Student worker)
The Binghamton Community Poets were founded in 1983 by native Binghamton poet, educator, and Harpur College alum Richard Martin. That year he started the The Big Horror Reading Series at a local coffee house. People associated with the series changed throughout the years but always included local writers who were dedicated to the idea of creating a space where literary art could flourish. For fourteen years, readings took place at various venues around the Triple Cities featuring nationally and internationally known writers while continuing to provide “open mike” time for local community writers and sometimes musicians. The series received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Broome County Arts Council, and Poets and Writers, Inc., as well as public donations.
Many of the readings between 1987 and 1996 were videotaped. Some of the writers who are featured on the videotapes include (in alphabetical order) Tish Benson, Charles Bernstein, Barney Bush, Wally Butts, Adrian Clarke, Suzanne Cleary, Robert Creeley, Joel Dailey, Jim Daniels, Jack Dann, Diane di Prima, Safiya Henderson-Holmes, Lance Henson, Bob Holman, Pierre Joris, Dave Kelly, Sylvia Kelly, Bill Kemmett, Peter Kidd, Dorianne Laux, Ed Ochester, Kate Rushin, Pamela Sargent, Patricia Smith, Lloyd Van Brunt. Also featured are former and current members of the Binghamton University faculty (in alphabetical order): David Bartine, Martin Bidney, Milton Kessler, Bob Mooney, Liz Rosenberg, Jerome Rothenberg, John Vernon. People associated with the series at one time or another (in alphabetical order): Ken Bovee, Alexis Cacyuk, Jerry Caswell, Tom Costello, Gerry Crinnin, Terry Day, Paul Dean, Zack Grabosky, Tom Haines, Connie Head, Michael Kelly, Tom Kolpakas, Richard Martin, Kate McQueen, John Miller, Bern Mulligan, Doug Paugh, Susan Prezzano, Phil Sweeney, Mike Tarcha. Venues for recorded readings (in chronological order): Swat Sullivan’s Hotel*, Benlin’s, Mad Murphy’s, The Tazmanian Embassy, The Amsterdam, Java Joe’s, Amp’s.
The collection also includes twelve excerpted poems that serve as an introduction. They are linked not only to the full individual readings in Rosetta but also to the catalog records for the books in which they are published. This creates a unique convergence experience, as the catalog record “comes alive” and users can see the writer and hear a poem from the book before they take it off the shelf to read.
Digitization and DVD Production
After the series ended in 1996, the videotapes sat in boxes for ten years. In 2006, since they were most likely degrading and losing both video and audio fidelity, a Memorandum of Understanding between the BCP and the Libraries was agreed on and the process of converting the videotapes to DVD-quality MPEG files for preservation and access purposes was begun. Many of them had glitches and dead spots and several others were not originals but copies, further adding to loss of video and audio fidelity. After the conversion, both the video and audio quality were enhanced to a degree from what was on the tapes. Phase Two involved producing individual DVDs from the MPEG files. The files were literally “raw”: they started when the camera was turned on and continued without interruption until it was turned off, which meant there was often video of silent microphones and audio of irrelevant crowd noises and conversations. Editing these out made the DVDs much better than the raw files.
Preservation and Expanded Access
Due to copyright restrictions, the DVDs have been housed in Special Collections and had to be viewed there. This has definitely curtailed their usage. However, a recent development in Rosetta, our digital preservation system, has allowed us to offer a new form of access. Rosetta added a built-in video viewer, which allows the videos to be both preserved and streamed at the same time. In order to accomplish this, the DVDs had to be converted to MP4s to be compatible with the new viewer. The streaming versions are copies of the DVDs, which is why they contain menus and chapters which are not functional but are continuous play. The streaming versions will allow more users to be able to view and listen to this diverse, wide-ranging collection of readings. (N.B.: They are only accessible on campus or via campus VPN.)
*The image on the item records is the iconic Swat Sullivan's Hotel, which was located on Binghamton's South Side. Swat's was the venue for the earliest readings in the video collection. The building was torn down in 1990. This image was downloaded from Pinterest. If you are the rights holder, please contact The Libraries.
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