At a recent poetry conference held at Brown University, Kenneth Goldsmith read the St. Louis County autopsy report of Michael Brown, while Brown’s photo loomingly projected behind him, in the supposed service of conceptual aesthetics. The resulting conversations in the literary community are a complex and divisive matrix, in which the possibilities (and constraints) of art are juxtaposed with unmitigated privilege.
If Goldsmith’s experiment was meant to provoke anger, a sense of injustice and/or discomfort, then based on responses, his poem was a means to that end. Still, what does that anger and awareness accomplish? For many Americans — particularly people of color — anger, injustice and discomfort are daily realities of which they need not be reminded in a poem. So, then: whom does that poem serve? It certainly does not serve those who live in a constant state of otherness, whose bodies are neither metaphorical nor imaginary, whose bodies are dangerously material, not someone else’s material.
And if the poem is expressly for the poet, another question arises: Is the White occupation of the Black body an allowable artistic conquest?
Amy King, poet and Offing advisory board member, explores Goldsmith’s executions of privilege, white supremacy, and the insouciant intellectualizations of poetic freedom in an essay on the VIDA blog titled, “Why Are People So Invested in Kenneth Goldsmith? Or, Is Colonialist Poetry Easy?” We wish everyone would read it.
Image: Creative Hands, 2011, by Josh Kline. Source: art21 magazine.