Edson Smith is marked as #10 in this image
On Poets and Photos
Let’s face it, the thing we like best about archives is that we can feel someone has done the remembering for us. We’re all happy that old stuff exists, and even happier we don’t have to curate, care for, or store it.
Big Enough for Words challenges the notion that archives are only for attics or libraries. Writers from Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties dove deep, sifting, considering, looking. For as Susan Sontag wrote in 1977 in her brilliant On Photography monograph, “Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.” She forgot to add poetry.
As writers we bring all our present-day baggage to the process, of course, so be prepared for plenty of questioning of what a Santa Barbara means, and how mean it had to be to get that way. But, as ever with the California coast, there’s all that beauty, and poets can’t refuse to testify to that. And we live here, now, ourselves, so we have to be complicit.
For Sontag also wrote, “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” And similarly, these poems hope to lovingly, responsibly, hold time tight, knowing, knowing, all must go.
We hope you find these archival excavations as thrilling as we do. We would be remiss if we didn’t give profuse thanks to Jace Turner, who shepherded the digitization of the photo collection at the SBPL and then also turned us on to their importance, and David Starkey, who put together an ekphrastic reading about the collection several years ago which became the impetus for this anthology.