Archives of Loss: David Antin, Susan Howe, Vanessa Place

Hélène Aji


Through considerations about poetic work, from three very different authors, David Antin, Susan
Howe and Vanessa Place, the article reconsiders the significance of the archive in contemporary
poetic creation.
Archival preoccupation signals a concern with the present, and its flitting quality: the modes of
improvisation in Antin thus offer formal options for a recording of the present as the locus of loss. In
Howe, the archival impulse seems to stem from a desire to rewrite history and put forward the issues
of historiography: manuscript material from intractable archives generates poetic constructions that
become archival material in turn: chaotic typographies evidence what is lost in archivization, rather
than focus on what is preserved. Archival gestures might eventually emerge as part of our (lost) fight
against radical loss and death: Place’s expansive work on documenting death and the morbidity of
social practices is nodal, reaching a paroxystic dimension in Last Words, a project centered on the
death penalty, and the electronic archive of the last words of the executed inmates of Texas.
In the dialectics outlined by the works of these three poets, the paradox of the archive unfolds as it
grows exponentially while remaining incomplete and defective, a sign of the fault in the dialectics of
“archive fever” as it inexorably fails to counter our mortal condition.

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