Thursday, March 15, 2007

How I got Deleted from Wikipedia: A Question of Legitimacy in a Postmodern World, part 1

Opening Pandora's box last week, I made my initial foray into the expanding, but still nascent, world known as Wikipedia. I was over Derek Fenner's apartment, a one-room efficiency crammed floor to ceiling with books a block from Kerouac park in downtown Lowell with a great view of city life and within walking distance to a few good bars, and I started quizzing him on the history of Bootstrap Productions. Over the past year or so I have bothered him to document the very improbable beginnings of what has become a pretty interesting press with a post-beat aesthetic markedly different from anything currently out there, and he kept saying, "Oh, yeah, Ryan and I have it all written down in our Five Year Plan." After about a year of not seeing the supposed, "Five Year Plan" I was growing skeptical. But after repeated questioning the other night, Derek reluctantly produced this mythic document. That's when I found out that the "history" of Bootstrap Productions consisted of two block paragraphs written in some wooden prose that seemed more fit for an obituary column that an alive, kicking, breathing press about to publish 6 to 8 books this year (more on this later).

Derek Fenner in his apartment, Lowell, MA
Derek Fenner in his apartment, Lowell, MA

So, I, being typically bulldogish and obsessive, obnoxiously belittled the Five Year Plan and called it "Bullshit" or something like than and made a big show of it and told Derek that he'd have to start at the beginning and that I had all night... Anyway, we were drinking beers and he was trapped in his efficiency and there wasn't all that much going on in Lowell on a random Wednesday night and Derek could tell I was determined, so he began talking. The conversation led us back to 2001 and the start of the Bootstrap chapbook series and to the North Boulder warehouse that I remember Derek living in across the parking lot from the Bustop Gentleman's Club. It was a classic operation: shit everywhere, music blaring, cut-out magazine pictures on the walls, people coming in and out, some random guy always asleep on a cot in the corner. It seems so surreal now, but that's my memory of the place. Anyway, I kept saying "No, go back earlier." Eventually, we traced the origins of the press to a conversation Derek had with Jeff Chester, a current student in Naropa's MFA program, in the Fall of 1999. Then, with a bit of excited flair, he started pawing through all these documents -- scraps of paper, old letters, files from the initial attempts to turn Bootstrap into a nonprofit -- and produced a letter from Jeff Chester from April of 2000 talking about Bootstrap. In the letter (possibly the first time anyone ever wrote the word bootstrap in reference to the press), Jeff tells Derek to "see the attached document." He was referring to a cartoon he had drawn included with the letter, dipicting poets in a band. Anyway, at the end of the letter, he says something like, "The Attached Document -- it might make a great name for the magazine." And thus, The @tached Document was born.

Derek Fenner's old House, Sommerville, MA
Derek Fenner's old House, Sommerville, MA

The two of us went back and forth like this for a number of hours, until I said, "Derek, I should write some of this up and post it on Wikipedia." That's when things really started to get interesting. After typing out the initial history, I signed in to Wikipedia, clicked the "Create a New Page" link, and copied in the first paragraph. Having never posted on Wikipedia before, I wanted to see if it really worked, so I jumped the gun a bit and posted the site before I had put in any links or documented any of the information with outside sources. Within three minutes, the site was tagged for "SPEEDY DELETION." A following message said something about the entry not meeting Wikipedia standards for "Notability." Needless to say, I was shocked. Three minutes! So, I had to go back on and put in a tag saying "HOLD ON," which alerted the administrators (whoever they are) that I was contesting the site's speedy deletion. I spent the next few hours working on the site, setting up links, and documenting that the press is actually noteworthy enough to have a Wikipedia site. At 3:30 in the morning, Derek and I went to bed. When we woke up at 9, the Bootstrap Productions page was gone!

(more to come).


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